A Mount Mansfield reflection at the Lake of the Clouds in Stowe,Vermont

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Summit of Mount Mansfield and reflection with the shoreline at Lake of the clouds.

Hiking to a majestic Vermont photography location

 Lake Of The Clouds is a glacial tarn located on Mount Mansfield in the spine of the Green Mountains.

A glacial tarn is a glacial lake in a circular shape formed by glacial scouring or movement during the retreat of glacial ice.

This location was on my list to visit for many years and finally in 2013 I was able to make the hike and shoot one of Vermont’s most wonderful landscapes.

The hike to the “Chin” or summit of Mount Mansfield takes about three hours and for this image I started hiking up at 3 a.m. to catch the sunrise. I knew ultimately I would probably miss the sunrise by a few minutes and on the day I made this hike there just was no cloud cover whatsoever.

In the end I was ok with the conditions that I had to shoot under as being in the location without another soul around and taking in the silence and majesty of it all was reward enough for me.

Sunrise light and difficult exposures

The scene above on the day that I visited presented a number of challenges. As with any landscape shoot generally they are entirely dependent on the weather and this sunrise was no exception. I am not the fastest hiker when I have 20 plus pounds of camera gear on my back so I missed sunrise by a few minutes but with no cloud cover any color was non-existent from my vantage point. The difficulties in getting this image included…..

  1. The weather- As I mentioned while a little on the cool side for an early morning hike the clouds had dissipated overnight leaving me without much of anything in the sky to anchor the composition. This is the curse of a landscape photographer but not an insurmountable challenge by any means.
  2. The position of the Sun- The suns position was still very low in the sky and being that I was on Vermont’s highest peak meant that parts of the image would be in deep shadow and other parts would be in bright sun. My best course of action was to use neutral density filters, a polarizing filter and to shoot two images for blending later on. It was just really close to impossible to capture the range of light here in one image.
  3. The fragile landscape- The area here is surrounded with fragile and rare vegetation and as such I tread very lightly and try not to disturb the area. My compositions were limited but I knew I wanted a shot of the mountain summit reflecting in the water. In the end I chose this composition as it was a good compromise of foreground interest, giving the viewer a sense of place all while not including much of the sky and with no impact to the environment.
  4. The sky- No clouds meant that I would have to try and include as little of the sky into my composition as possible. I wanted enough to give some scale and to show the brilliant blue color but not so much that the image looked empty. There are times when you can creatively use a blue sky in an image but my personal preference is to not include it in this situation as it wouldn’t add anything to the final image.

How I shot my landscape for an exposure blended image

Exposure blending images can be very easy or very difficult depending on the composition. This situation warranted shooting two images but the difficulty came in combining them as trees and driftwood on the left side extended into the horizon line making a simple composition from the horizon impossible. Essentially I used an angled gradient, lots of brushwork and a lot of corrections in post to get the image right where I wanted it.

The first image here that I shot was made for the shadows. Because of the suns position the shadows were hard to bring up in a single exposure and as you can see the highlights are quite extreme. While not blown out they did allow me some wiggle room for my exposure blend……

Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Lake of the Clouds-Landscape photography-exposure blend

 

My second image was made to control the highlights which were on the bright side with no cloud cover. Imagine a line from the top left corner of the image to the bottom right corner of the image and this is how I made my blend….Blending the best parts of the highlights and shadows along that imaginary line.

This is one of the reasons why this blend was on the difficult side as generally I try to have a clear horizon to make the stitching easier. In this image because of the composition I could not use a straight up and down gradient. The gradient to blend the images would have to be at an angle and this meant some more complicated brushwork would be needed. The highlight image exposure was pretty accurate to the conditions…..

 

Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Lake of the Clouds-Landscape photography-exposure blend

You can really see the difference here in this image for the highlights and how much shadow there was in the left side compared to the right. With no easy way to get a single capture I had to shoot two and correct the lighting for both and try to match them as close as possible to the original scene. Both of these files are original, straight out of camera files that did need a lot of post processing. It really is amazing that camera raw files have such a tremendous amount of information that can be pushed to create a striking image.

Work with what you are given

After all is said and done you often times need to just work with whatever conditions present themselves.

Knowing that I would not be back to this location for a long time I made the best choices I could to come home with something exceptional.

With a three a.m. start time and a three hour hike up coming away with no images was not an option.

Words cannot describe what it feels like to be in this location early in the morning with no people and not much in the way of sounds. It’s one of those Vermont locations that can be a crap shoot in terms of weather but the experience of being there and seeing the peak of Mount Mansfield rising above the water just cannot be missed.

 

Red Storm

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

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

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

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

Under The Surface

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A culvert and waterfall near Underhill State Park in Underhill, Vermont

It’s amazing the things you can find sometimes just wondering around familiar territory. I have hiked around this area for a number of years and driven on the road which is above the image frame here many times and I never noticed these old style cement culverts which were running under the road. Normally I hate shooting these because they are the modern, metal type, But I happened to find two of these old, gnarly looking culverts while exploring this section of river. The river winds its way down from Mount Mansfield and along the road which leads its way up to the state park parking lot.

I shot this at the beginning of our current rainy season in May which is still ongoing this week. Portions of the road and riverbank were well saturated with water when I shot this image and some spots were completely caving in and down into the river. Compositions were difficult because of the trees and debris from the washed out riverbanks falling every which way across the river. Here I was drawn to the forest growth which is starting to envelope the old culvert. It’s hard to find these remnants of the past but probably 80 percent of the roads here are still dirt so if you look hard enough you can find them!

Pretty straightforward processing here with some simple tweaks in Lightroom. I fixed a slight yellow tint in the highlights with some basic clarity and exposure adjustments. Nothing fancy here….Just a peaceful composition shot on a rainy Vermont day!

Image Data: ISO 100. 20mm. F11 @ 5 seconds. Cokin P series circular polarizer.

Erosion

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Cracked rocks and sunset over Lake Champlain from Oakledge park.

In the springtime along the shores of Lake Champlain you have a short window of time to make images with decent, rocky foregrounds before the snowmelt and rains cover them up. This image I made in early April and because of the heavy rains we have had this Summer, The rock here is now submerged in water. It’s something I have to watch out for and depending on how high the water is I have to wait some months to return to certain spots.

We have had so much rain this summer that a lot of the good foregrounds are covered up now including this one but I had the chance to shoot this section of rock before the rains came. The rocks here at this park have a ton of character….Many are cracked and pitted but some are smooth due to many years of the relentless pounding of the waves from the lake. The landscape here changes daily and I was lucky on this trip to catch a really nice sunset with clouds reflecting the beautiful light from the setting sun!

The image itself is a blend of two different shots. Both were made for focus and at different exposure settings to blend together exactly the kind of light that I was seeing while shooting. These exposure blends always require a different amount of work for each one ,Some are easier and some are a bit more difficult. Along with blending the foreground and background together like this image they will need a good amount of brush work to even out the exposure and to add in extra light where I need it. We certainly live in a beautiful world!

Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ .06 and 1/15. No filters. Two images blended in Photoshop and edited in Lightroom.

One Fine Day

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Boating on Lake Champlain at sunset.

There are times when you have all of these ideas in your head about what you want to shoot and what compositions you might try but the world at large can often have different plans for your photography. Since I live so close to the lake I try to get out as often as I can when the conditions are ripe for sunsets over Lake Champlain. The weather tends to change pretty rapidly here so you have to be open-minded and receptive to changing what you want to shoot at a moments notice. This night was one of those nights where the clouds in the sky rapidly dissipated as the sun went down.

Warm nights bring out tons of people and activity on the lake which makes it hard to get any unobstructed views. Because of the sheer number of people and the high water covering many of the decent foregrounds at this park I was stuck in a small patch of shrubs and poison ivy. I hate to go out shooting without getting anything so this was one of those times were I made the most out of what I was given.

The sunset was so-so but i thought shooting in these high reeds along the shoreline would make for some nice silhouette’s with the activity on the water and the small amount of clouds in the sky. I shot a few frames when I noticed the people in the canoe off to my right. I waited for just the right moment as they glided by and were in line with the sun and the great reflected light on the water! Not my typical work but a nice capture of life living next to a lake.

Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 1/50. No filters.

A Curious Rock

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Honey Hollow Falls at the base of Camels Hump mountain.

This is a pretty interesting set of waterfalls located near the base of Vermont’s other well-known mountain Camels Hump. On really old maps of the area the mountain is listed as Camels hump and no other name due to its distinctive shape looking like…You guessed it, A camels hump! The falls here are a short drive from Burlington, Roughly 30 minutes or so. The falls are part of a larger stream system that runs directly alongside one of the steepest logging roads I have ever seen. You can drive up it but only in the late Spring Summer and fall. I wouldn’t even attempt it in the Winter months without some serious 4wd. These falls are in a fairly deep gorge with sloping sides of very slippery rock.

The careful decent is worth it as there are a series of smaller falls leading to the final, large falls with small pools, circular pools and good shots facing either up or downstream. The only downside to shooting here is that a huge pine tree has fallen into the gorge making some of the downstream shots almost impossible. The rock here is rather interesting because of its red color but due to the force of the water over many years it forms a pretty graceful curve back behind the camera position here. It’s an awesome foreground subject and here I am using it for the smaller upper falls!

The image is a two shot composite for focus and exposure. I made one exposure for the falls and one for the red rock in the foreground. I blended the two together with some simple brush work…No gradients or anything else were needed. This is one location as long as you are careful and aware can yield more than one image. Be aware of the slippery rocks and you will be rewarded with some nice waterfall images!

Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 2.5 seconds for both images. Shot with a Cokin Circular Polarizer.

Mars Is Burning

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Sunset with shore line and clouds over Lake Champlain. Burlington, Vermont.

I have been getting skunked lately with sunsets with several storm systems rolling through the area and never quite materializing into great photographs. After a few attempts I finally managed to get a decent combination of sunset, color and clouds with a good foreground. The water levels around Lake Champlain are quite high right now and this obscures a lot of the shoreline rocks that normally are visible.

The night that I made this image presented me with a pretty awesome sunset….The oranges here faded to blues, and pinks which made for quite a show! The weather conditions left a low hanging bank of mist directly over the lake in the distance giving this image an interesting fade effect. There were some low clouds on the horizon and as the sun set behind them it gave a quality of light that was pretty amazing…The oranges really popped i the sky for just a few minutes! I was drawn in by the interesting shape of the small pool of water here with the cracks in the rock.

Technically this image was a challenge as exposing for the sky of course made the rocks darker than they should have been. I made two exposures here, One for the sky and one for the rocks and manually blended in Photoshop. The resulting blend was much closer to what I was seeing rather than what the camera was giving me. After I added a layer mask and a gradient to the images I used a brush at about 30% opacity to brush in some of the light from the rock exposure. You have to be gentle here with the brushwork as it’s all to easy to add to much light in and ruin the shot. I just added in enough to replicate what I was seeing naturally with my eyes.

Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 1/80 and 1/15. No filters.

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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!)

Turning Towards Heaven

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Sunset over the Burlington, Vermont Breakwater on Lake Champlain.

Usually the sunsets here in Vermont are just fantastic one day and then followed by several days of bad weather and overcast and flat skies. You have to make the most of the short windows you have especially at the end of Winter and in the early Spring. Every year is different of course but we seem to be in this pattern this year. We had a warm up followed by a cool down with more snow several weeks ago and the sky opened up just a bit for me to shoot this sunset.

Here in Burlington we have a huge open area park with quite an expansive view of Lake Champlain. The inner breakwater at the bottom of the image is used in Wintertime to store boat docks and off to camera right is Burlington’s Coast Guard station. The clouds here formed into one giant blob of darkness soon after I shot this so time was of the essence for this sunset. You can see to the last of the lake ice with some seagulls perched on top! In the background you can see the majestic Adirondack Mountains…I feel lucky everyday to be able to drive 5 minutes to see sites like this!

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Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 1/80. No filters.