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.

A Winter landscape on Lake Champlain at sunset

The long waitIce formations and snow at sunset on Lake Champlain in winter

Generally during the holiday season I get a few weeks off at the end of the year from work and I try to get a good deal of photography work done during that time. The weather can be a fickle, Cruel mistress here in Vermont during the winter season and I had two weeks of disappointment waiting for some decent weather to role in. I suppose it’s the bitter irony of being a landscape photographer as you get fooled day after day into thinking the conditions for shooting are going to materialize and then they never do.

That’s probably the most frustrating thing about doing this kind of work and what challenges you to be a better photographer in the face of adversity. For example today’s image was shot around a half hour or so before sunset and the weather conditions were brutal even though you don’t get any indications of that from the image. I had left my house about an hour before sunset and the sky was clear blue but with the help of some trusty apps and my intuition it really paid off to go out and shoot on a miserable day. Sure enough as soon as I left my house the wind really kicked up but as the sun set more and more clouds rolled into the area assuring me of a decent sunset.

Before editing image example of a winter sunset on Lake Champlain
This is the original image file before editing which consists of two images, One for the sunburst and sky and one for the foreground snow and ice. The sky image was shot at ISO 500 F22 @1/100 and the foreground image was shot at ISO 500 F11 @ 1/250.

The challenging image

This image presented a bit of a challenge as the wind was really whipping around and the sun was setting making me have to decide about how best to shoot this scene. Normally I don’t point directly into the sun but in this case I felt like changing things up. The sun was creating excellent shadows in the snow and the glancing light on the ice made for some nice color versus all white in the snow. Because I was losing the light and with the windy conditions I bumped the ISO up to 500 so I could get some fast shutter speeds. I added in a three stop graduated neutral density filter on my lens to tame the sky and made two exposures….One at a high aperture for the sunburst and one to add some light to the foreground.

I wasn’t expecting to get anything sharp but I managed to get a few sets of keepers despite the windy conditions. In Photoshop I blended the two images together with a gradient but with the irregular shape of the icy shoreline I had to zoom in at 100% and tweak the middle ground with some brush work to fully refine the blend and make it seamless. The camera doesn’t always interpret what your eyes see accurately and that’s where my eyes and mind take over in the editing process.

I always wait to perform any edits until after the two images are blended together seamlessly. I did a slight crop of the top and bottom and added in a bit of color in the highlights and shadows that was present but the camera recorded more on the blue side. The highlights in the snow are quite strong in a few spots but not really all that distracting and pretty typical of winter scenes here.

I was really happy with the final result even though this image did present some issues with the jagged horizon in the middle ground. Generally you will have some areas that lose focus and there were a couple of small spots in the middle ground but nothing that wasn’t easily blended with the sharp sky image. Wind and blowing snow can be challenging but shooting in these tough winters for a number of years now gave me the experience to overcome.

 

The Watcher- Sandbar State Park. Milton, Vermont

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Self portrait of Andrew Gimino at Sandbar State Park in Milton, Vermont with star trails in the night sky. The light pollution comes from the city of Montreal in Canada.

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!

Under the Super Moon- A Star Trail tutorial

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Ski lift tower illuminated by the super moon with star trails at Smugglers Notch ski resort. Jeffersonville, Vermont.

 

*Prints of this image can be purchased 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!

Still Waters

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Clouds with sunrise light over Lake Champlain from Oakledge Park in Burlington, Vermont.

*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.

The Watchers

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Hay field and trees overlooking the Champlain Valley and the Adirondack Mountains at sunset.

*If you like this image it is available for purchase right here!

When looking for new locations going on scouting missions and researching the area thoroughly is always a good skill to have but talking to landowners is also another. It can be nerve-racking going up to someones door that you do not know but a handshake and introducing yourself can go along way to shooting property that is otherwise inaccessible.  The property in today’s image I have driven by thousands of times and have wanted to make some photographs there for a long time. One day this Spring I finally got the gumption to go and shoot on the periphery of the property when one of the owners saw me shooting and came out to talk to me!

I was a bit surprised at this but I nicely introduced myself, shook his hand and we had a pleasant conversation about photography. (Turned out he was a photographer himself although with people and not landscapes!) He told me all about the property and behind the hay fields you see here is actually a nature preserve with trails and a sweeping view of Lake Champlain and the Champlain Valley. The driveway through the property which turns into a dirt road through the hay fields is a right of way for the town where I shot this and it was perfectly fine to walk onto the land and shoot!

The property itself contains an old farmhouse with a couple of really large and old barns with some pretty fantastic views all the way around. I made this shot of two trees that sit on the edge of the hay-field and they reminded me of guards or watchers as they look out over Lake Champlain. The setting sun was providing some nice light on the grass fields and just as I was about to move positions this rather large cloud floated directly over the two trees! Sometimes you get lucky and other times you make your own luck.

The Stage Is Set

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Passing clouds at sunset with side lighting over Lake Champlain. Burlington, Vermont.

As I was hunting around for compositions I had to weave my way around several people who were out due to the warming weather. I had to choose my comps wisely and for just a few moments because of the suns position I caught a break with some incredible side lighting on the rocks and clouds. The sun was off to camera left and the scene was quite boring but with a slight turn of my camera I got the most amazing scene!

For just a few minutes during each sunset there is a bit of wiggle room to capture the great side lighting here in the area hitting the rocks along the shore. The rocks light up a beautiful shade of pink due to their natural color. It happens very quickly just before the sun sets under the horizon but if you scramble around like a mad man then you can get a few images of it.

The composition here was mainly because of desperation! I saw the awesome light on the clouds but there were some people in the area and I had to compose without them walking into the shot. The light here in this image really did not last very long so I had to be quick. The view is looking in  a northerly direction over Lake Champlain with Burlington’s Rock Point way off in the distance.

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Image Data: Two images shot for exposure and focus: foreground shot at ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 1/10 and the clouds at 1/80. Blended in Photoshop CS2 and finished in Lightroom.

Turning Towards Heaven

Sunset, Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont, Clouds
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.

Two Trees

Ice covered trees and rocks with sunset over Lake Champlain.
Ice covered trees and rocks with sunset over Lake Champlain.

It’s all about perspective when it comes to shooting images at locations you have visited many times. Changing your perspective several times and really working a composition always 100% of the time will lead to some surprising results! I am fortunate to live in a state where the locations I often return to change throughout the year. While it can be a challenge at times especially in the icy grip of Winter to get something new from an old location I never leave a composition without first exhausting all of its possibilities.

This image was shot during a fairly cold sunset over Lake Champlain at a park that I visit quite often throughout the year. The waves from the lake over the course of the Winter build up a fairly thick coating of ice on the shoreline in the area making it difficult to get down to the water’s edge in places. Not finding good compositions on the ice I stepped back several paces and found this composition looking out between these two trees. I liked the combination of the setting sun with the fading light striking the ice.

Here I had to do an exposure blend of two images. I wanted a certain level of light on the foreground as well as to preserve the light in the sunset something impossible to do in one exposure given the composition and the contrast between the light and dark areas. I try to keep my blends rather simple…..I placed the two images over each other and I used a brush set to about 30 to 40% opacity to blend in the color in the sky. Fine tuning is the key along the edges of the icy rocks and the tree limbs but I think the results were worth it!

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

Transitions

Winter sunset during blue hour over Lake Champlain. Burlington, Vermont.
Winter sunset during blue hour over Lake Champlain. Burlington, Vermont.

Sometimes you get lucky with an image and you are in the right place at the right time. Here in Vermont you may get some frozen fingers and toes but if you can position yourself and your gear just right you can come away with some interesting images! I shot this image back in January and I forgot I had shot it but when I took a second look at this one I realized what a gem it was. I would say over the past four months 99% of my images have been shot in the hour before sunset, blue hour and the hour after sunset. We may not get all of the color in a sunset you may see out west but what we do get in the Wintertime is a certain crispness to the images.

In this image I managed to capture the fading light of sunset as well as the transition from blue hour and into night with some stars poking through the sky. It is really interesting to see all three events in one single frame. Cloud cover has been a bear over the past few months but here I got a nice touch of interest in the clouds that were present. I have to take advantage of skies like this as they can turn into an ugly mess in a heartbeat with our fickle Vermont weather!

Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 13 seconds. No filters.

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