I think as photographers we all want to make that one image, That one money shot that will define us as artists and keep people talking. A challenge that I think gets overlooked all to often is making the everyday, the mundane look extraordinary especially in a photograph. With the Winter sun setting so far south right now here in Vermont it can be difficult from where I live to shoot a decent sunset over Lake Champlain. In the first week of January I made a quick trip south along the lake to see what I could find. This day was particularly grey and uninviting for photography but my photography sixth sense kicked in when I noticed some small breaks in the cloud cover. I had a feeling that some great light was going to come my way during this sunset and I found my way to the Charlotte Town Beach in Charlotte, Vermont.
This beach is a small one 15 to 20 minutes away from where I live in Burlington and this was my first visit to the location. The beach is more of a rocky one than a sandy one and at first glance you wouldn’t think that there would be much to shoot. After investigating compositions for a while and getting a feel for the location I started to really notice some nice lines and curves in the sand along the shoreline. As I was shooting in the opposite direction to this image I was keeping a watchful eye on the sky and sure enough the clouds started to break a bit as the sun was setting. I turned my attention to this tree which looks south down Lake Champlain and for about 5 minutes the sky opened up with some pretty amazing color!
A very small window of sky and color opened up framing this small tree that sits on one end of the beach. The suns position really made the oranges and pinks pop and I really couldn’t believe it. Winters can be quite harsh here and this Winter we have seen very little in the way of snowfall so getting to witness this was quite a boost to my spirits! With very little time I was frantically running around on this rocky beach and settled on this composition. I really didn’t have much time and after shooting several frames this beautiful light and clouds got swallowed up by more clouds dashing this great sunset. There hasn’t been many times that I have been made speechless as a photographer but this was one of them.
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.
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!
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!
Well it has been awhile since I have posted new work but not because I have not been shooting any. I took around a month off from posting and social media so that I could focus on my Autumn foliage photography and as I am starting to get into processing those images I should be getting back on track with posting new work! This latest piece which is a self-portrait that I shot at the Sandbar State Park on Lake Champlain was made right before the foliage season started and it’s been tough to sit on this one for over a month and a half. Towards the end of the Summer and start of the early Autumn I did several night shooting sessions and this was my first time shooting at night at this location.
Sandbar State Park is around 20 minutes from Burlington and right in my old neighborhood. It’s exactly what it sounds like…A fairly large, shallow sandbar on Lake Champlain. I spent a lot of time here as a teenager and you can walk out on the lake in this location for quite a distance without the water ever getting over your waist. It is an interesting area to shoot in as most nights there won’t be any other people there and you can get some decent dark skies depending on which way you are pointing in while shooting. In this image I wanted to get the circular star trails above me so I was pointed North towards the city of Montreal and Canada. From this point you are roughly about an hour or so away from the Canadian border and some light pollution is to be expected.
I was interested to try putting myself in the image as usually I shoot without the presence of any people in the shot. I think the addition of myself in the frame definitely added some more interest and a happy accident occurred as I was looking directly up at the North Star without the intention of doing so! The image is composed of 111 shots which were merged in Photoshop. (You can view my previous post here to read about the process of stacking these images together.) Because I could not put any light on myself the lighten command in Photoshop was not going to work in this instance. I had to use a gradient to blend myself into the star trail shot and fortunately the blending came together and I was able to realize my vision for this image!
If you would like to purchase a print of this piece you can do so right here!
Most people will tell you not to go out shooting star trails during the super moon or full moon due to the extremely bright light but I like to go against the grain. My schedule only allows me to shoot at certain times so if the conditions are good then I go no matter what. I had been thinking of this image for quite some time and finally the conditions presented themselves to make the shot only the super moon was out causing some really bright light in the night sky. You can however still do night photography during the super moon phases you just have to be a bit creative about what you shoot!
Circular star trails are achieved by pointing in a northerly direction at the North Star which you can see here at the center of the circles. The more North you point the more circular the pattern. As you move away from North the patterns will be less circular and more linear. I personally really like the circular pattern so when I am looking for compositions I try to point in a northerly direction. Generally as a rule of thumb for myself I always try to find static objects that don’t move simply because trees and other moving natural objects tend to sway and move even i the lightest of breezes. It’s simply a personal preference for me as I do not like the blur the wind causes but I never let that stop me from shooting a particular composition.
The full moon and the super moon causes some problems with the extreme bright light they produce in the sky. My simple trick to avoid this is to shoot in a northerly direction for two reasons…1. If you look North the sky will still be dark enough to shoot star trails regardless of the brightness of the moon when it is full 2. The full Moon will illuminate your foreground which allows for lower iso’s and eliminates the need for any light painting of the subject. The Moon lit up the ski tower which allowed me to shoot at iso 400 versus 800 or above so the image file is much cleaner. Instead of not shooting at all and staying home I used what I was given to my advantage and got an image I had been thinking about for over a year!
The processing of these shots is really quite simple with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop cc. There are a few other ways to do this but for me this is the simplest and easiest. I don’t do anything in Lightroom until after I have merged the files together…It’s easier to process one file than 150!
1. The first thing that I do is import the raw files into lightroom and then export the entire series into a separate folder on my computer as TIFF files. You can work with JPEG’s to speed up the process but I like to work on TIFF’s so I can edit the combined file later. TIFF files will take much longer to process but I have never had a problem doing 140 to 150 files in under ten minutes.
3. Open Photoshop CC and in the menu bar 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. If you do not have bridge then you would have to do this one image at a time. There are a few stacking programs out there to do this but since I am already paying for my Photoshop subscription I process this way.
5. Once all of the images are layered in Photoshop highlight and select all of the layers and then set the blending mode in the layers panel to lighten. Before your eyes the magic happens and the star trail will appear! The lighten mode will only blend in the lightest pixels which will be the stars. In a few convenient commands you can see the fruits of your labors in just a few minutes!
*If you would like to purchase a copy of this image it can be found right here!
It is amazing how you can look at the sky one minute and say to yourself ” Damn not much is going to happen there for sunrise” and the next minute something magical happens. Such was the case early one morning when I was exploring some new compositions at Oakledge Park in Burlington, Vermont. I spend a great deal of time here as the park is very close to my home but it offers easy access to a wealth of compositions. I was looking for something I had not shot before when I came across this scene. The sky looked like it was just going to be a big wall of blue when this cloud started to develop just as the sun was rising above the treeline behind me!
This beach straddles a bike path that runs along the Burlington shoreline and this image is at one end of the beach. It is a small little area with a gnarly old tree and some reeds and at first glance wouldn’t look like there is much to shoot. The lake levels fluctuate throughout the year and they were on the low side when I shot this making the composition possible. The great part about shooting this area is that as the water levels change there are new shooting possibilities for an adventurous photographer. As this cloud formed and moved through the area it was kissed just at the right moment by the rising sun from behind me. The light was just beautiful the way it was highlighting the cloud and I was glad I was there to see it!
This is a composite image of two shots that I made for exposure and sharpness. The foreground was in some deep shadow and I really wanted to see the reeds and rocks so one exposure was made for this area while the second was made for the cloud and sky. I blended them together in Photoshop and did my final edits in Lightroom, Matching the tones together and doing some basic edits. The relative stillness of the water added a tranquil feel to this image the mood in the image was just right for a morning shot.
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.
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!
Lake Champlain here in Burlington, Vermont really is quite a beautiful site but I think the best time to shoot is during the sunrise hours. There is something about the calm waters and cool air that is hard to describe but easier to capture in an image. This Summer as I am laid off from my day job at the University of Vermont I took a temp job working 9-5 hours five days a week. I had to change my shooting schedule to the sunrise hours only and I have not been disappointed with that switch! I get up at four a.m. every morning and probably nine times out of ten I get skunked with terrible skies but it’s that tenth time that is worth getting up for.
On the day I shot this image a storm had passed through the area and another one was on its way in and this is what you are seeing in this image here. There was a bit of clearing in the sky with the next storm building right behind it. I love the light in the early morning hours that these types of storm clouds produce in the morning so getting up is almost always going to be fruitful as far as making images. The water was calm, the cloud formations were awesome and I happened to see this interesting formation of rocks along the shoreline at Oakledge Park.
I shot and blended two images here for exposure and sharpness throughout the scene. The rock formations here are in a bit of deep shadow and an image blend was needed here to really see the detail in the rocks as well as exposing properly for the beautiful clouds over head. I blended them together with a simple gradient in Photoshop and performed my usual tweaks in Lightroom. Nothing major as far as editing but an adjustment in white balance was also needed to balance everything together into a seamless image. Never underestimate morning clouds as the sun starts to rise…Boring skies will usually change to phenomenal in an instant!
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!
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!