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

Vermont-Autumn-Landscape-clouds-field-stream

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….

Vermont-Groton State Forest-Lanesboro-Autumn-landscape photography
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.

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

Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Bear Pond-black and white-landscape photography

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.

Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Bear Pond-exposure blended image-landscape photography
My first exposure with no edits that was made for the foreground grasses and logs.
Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Bear Pond-exposure blended image-landscape photography
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.
Vermont-Mount Mansfield-Bear Pond-exposure blended image-landscape photography
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.

 

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.

 

A how to guide for Salt Printing part two-An alternative photography process

Continuing on in my how to on salt printing series I will finish up in this post on the rest of the equipment that you will need to start making your prints. You really don’t need as much equipment to get started as in developing film so it is relatively easy to get set up to do salt printing.

lets dive right in to the rest of our gear:

The transparency sheets

After a great deal of research online I finally came across the Pictorico line of transparency sheets. I had to read a ton of really old forum conversation threads and amazon reviews to find out that this is what you want to use. These sheets are made for working with alternative photography processes so you are going to want to spend the money and get them as they do work in inkjet printers.

One thing to note when using them is to always hold them up to the light and inspect them before use. Once in a while just like with your paper there will be some kind of anomaly they may interfere with your image. After several packs I have come across one or two sheets that couldn’t be used because of some random spotting. It’s rare but it does happen.

One other thing to note that when printing on these I always set my images to print at a higher dpi. With my digital work I always go with 300 dpi but at these lower settings with negatives and transparencies I found you will see more lines from where the print heads move across the transparency sheets. For my salt prints I use 600 dpi and I have never had any issues with it. You could go higher than that but for me 600 has worked great.

Something to tack your paper too

This piece can be simple and cheap but you will need something to tack your paper too in order to keep it flat while coating and drying your paper. Here I am using a Styrofoam block I had lying around the house with some basic thumb tacks.

You really could use anything for this purpose but it should be flat and something easily thrown away as you may get chemicals on it. This thing was cheap and it serves its purpose.

A smock of some kind and safety glasses

You are going to want to wear something over your regular clothes to minimize any chemical spills you may get on your clothes. I am always careful and handle the chemicals with safety in mind but accidents happen and you want to be prepared. Here I am using an old chef’s jacket I had in my closet. In my day job I am a chef and had this lying around but it’s heavy with long sleeves and it just works. Again you could really use anything for this purpose. The safety glasses are self explanatory. You really don’t want to screw with your vision so you will need at least some minimal protection in case of spills or splashes.

Developing trays

For salt printing you only need two trays, One for washing your print in water and one for your fixer. It doesn’t matter what color they are really but I used a white one for my water wash and a grey one for my fixer. These are cheap and you can find them anywhere.

Odds and ends

In this image are some odds and ends you will need including:

  • rubber gloves-you really want to be careful mostly with the silver compound as it can stain your skin black. These are a necessity and give you protection from handling the chemicals.
  • LED yellow safe light. You cam buy these in any hardware or building supply store and they are not very expensive. I chose yellow but you could use red also. I chose LED lighting for its efficiency and long-term usage. Again here we are adapting modern technology to a very old process.
  • squeegee you can find these anywhere….Amazon, hardware stores or janitorial supply stores. You don’t have to spend a lot of money it just has to be of decent quality as you will be using it to get water off your prints which will be essential for proper drying of your paper. This one I got on amazon for around $7.00.
  • Measuring spoon – You only need a to measure teaspoons for your fixer and this simple one I bought at the grocery store works well. Just label it and keep it away from your other kitchen utensils…only use it for your fixer.
  • Tongs- I bought a pair of really cheap tongs and two is all you will need to salt print. You need one for the wash and one for your fix and while I notice their shortcomings as a cheap alternative to more expensive ones they have performed well for over a year now.
  • Face mask – The chemicals for salt printing are nowhere near as bad as collodion is but there are vapors present and you do want to protect yourself. These have been adequate so far but in the future I will get the respirator type to exercise even more caution.
  • Two small mixing cups – You will need two small cups for portioning out your salt and silver solutions. We have tons of these little medicine cups around with a four-year old in the house and they are perfect for measuring out your chemicals. Just be sure to properly label which is which, I use one for the salt solution and the other is for the silver.

One quart container with lid (not pictured)- While it’s not in the picture you can get plastic or metal one quart containers for mixing paint at any hardware or home improvement store. I use one to mix one quart of fixer that I keep on hand for making prints.

I saved the exposing light for last because it will require a lot of explaining as it has been a thorn in my side since I started salt printing. Here is some images of the light I am currently using and then I will get in-depth about why it is such a pain in the ass…..

This is a cheap way to have something on hand to expose your salt prints. UV exposing boxes cost thousands and all they are really is just wooden boxes with fluorescent light fixtures put inside them. This really isn’t economical for most people and unless it’s LED lighting your wasting electricity. I wanted LED’s to save on power consumption and I needed something small, light weight and portable that didn’t cost thousands of dollars. The original box that I built consisted of an 11×14 shadow box frame with LED strip lights mounted inside with a power plug. Strip lighting is great because you can cut the strips and make it into any shape that you want only the cut strips need a connector to attach them together. This set up while cheap proved unusable for a few reasons..

  • The LED strip lights are too under powered with exposures taking over an hour to complete. Better than using the sun but still not good enough.
  • The connector strips used to attach one piece of strip lighting to another are the weak point in that scenario. You only have so much length of the strips and connectors before you start losing power, It gets weaker the longer the strips and the more connectors you use. The strips can be quite flimsy and it can be difficult to get a solid connection making shorts common with this setup.
  • Unless you mount the strips right next to each other you will have strips of over and underexposed spots on your salt prints. Not acceptable to make quality prints.
  •  I abandoned this approach as it’s cheap but does not work very well.

Eventually I came across these LED floodlights that are used for concerts and lighting shows. These lights are great because the are cheap, LED and efficient meaning short exposure times and you can just plug them in and go. This particular unit covers a 5×7 area which is the size I like to print at however after about a year of using it I am finding some drawbacks that has required some hacking of the light unit…

  • The LED’s are mounted in a small square in the center and reflected outward with a metal insert under the glass of the light. Using the light as is creates hot spots in your exposure in the center if the light is too close to the glass of the contact printing frame. To mitigate that I moved the light away from the glass a few inches and through some testing have found that this spreads the light to far out creating really light exposure on the edges of your image area. That’s just not good enough for prints that will be exhibited or sold. I want an even exposure. I have experimented with several distances and can’t quite get the even exposure I am looking for.
  • I did a test where I turned all the lights off and flipped the light so it was shining towards my face with the glass from my contact printing frame for reference. The goal was to see where exactly the light was shining at different distances. This way you can see where exactly the light is shining and how far it is spreading or falling off from the center and at what distance it does the fall off at. Sure enough my the distance I was exposing at is wrong, This light likes it around an inch off the glass which gives a nice 5×7 exposing area with no fall off.
  • The LED’s in the center are another problem as that’s where they are at their brightest and at one inch off the glass does cause a hot spot in the center of your exposed image. My solution right now is to simply cover the LED’s with small squares of copy paper to reduce the light’s intensity and evening out the exposure. I have not as of yet made an actual print this way, I am only in the experimenting phase.
  • These floodlights have a glass covering over the LED’s with a black border on the glass with an interior silver reflector. Both of these together get reflected onto the image when held at certain distances. I never noticed it before as currently I am exposing prints with the lamp about three inches away but up close the lines from the shape of the reflector are clearly visible.

All of these issues coupled together make exposing a big pain in the but however they can be overcome. Currently I am tinkering with removing the silver reflector and the glass top and that should solve the issues. I really want this light to work 100% as it is a good cheap alternative to spending thousands on an exposure table which would make the process financially unworkable. I will report back when I can get to making some prints with my hacks on this light.  So there you have it, Two posts covering everything you need to start salt printing!

See part one of this series right here! The header image in part one is an example of what is wrong with my lighting setup….That image shows a nicely exposed center but at the edges is where the light really falls off. That tells you that I am holding the light too far away.

A how to guide for Salt Printing part one-An alternative photography process

 

A alternative process photography salt print of a field of daisiesFinding my alt process medium

I first came across salt printing during my initial research into the wet plate collodion process which was something that I wanted to attempt for a number of years. I decided in the end to focus on dry plate tintypes which are far less dangerous to produce and the subject of a future blog post.

I looked at a ton of different vintage processes and finally settled on salt printing as the best medium to start learning how to do alternative process work. Like any of these vintage ways to print images there are a lot of points in the process where things can go wrong and you have to learn to embrace flaws. Salt printing is a good first step because…..

  1. You do not need a traditional darkroom. You do need subdued lighting and you have to use a safe light but the room does not need to be completely dark. In my case I use my kitchen as there is only one window to cover and I have a source of water. I take great care to clean and cover all of my working surfaces and remove any items where there could be a chance of contamination. alternatively you could also use a bathroom.
  2. There are only four chemicals involved in the process and compared to other processes they are relatively safe. While great care and respect must be taken when using these chemicals, I do store them in my home but out of the way where only I can access them. They are also available in kits so you don’t have to have a chemistry lab on site  to make salt prints.

A minimum amount of equipment is needed, Some you can be thrifty and cheap on but some of it You should really spend money on to get the highest quality. Everything I use for the process can be kept in a space the size of a dresser drawer.

The negative side 

You control the entire process from image capture to printing and it will give you appreciation for the history of photography. You have a physical object you can hold in your hand that is one of a kind and the process is well suited for portraits.

There are a few minor negatives to the process but nothing that can’t be overcome with lots of trial and error. Hopefully with these posts you can avoid some of what I had to go through as the information online about salt printing is fragmentary and outdated. The negatives are…..

    1. It takes some time to do even two or three prints so you have to set aside a good chunk of time to print. I have gotten my exposure times down to less than 15 minutes but between coating and drying the paper, printing and exposing you are looking at close to an hour for one print.
    2. Whatever you use for a light source to expose the prints will be your biggest issue. This is something I have tinkered with for over a year now and still I feel the exposures need work. I will go into more detail when I get to the exposing part but you can either spend over a thousand bucks for an exposing table or go cheap. The sun was used when the process was invented but this is too inconsistent and it would take all day to make a print.
    3. Embrace flaws and take mistakes in stride. There are a lot of steps in making salt prints and when you are adapting a process invented in the 1800’s to modern techniques you will make mistakes along the way. No two prints will ever come out the same and there will be times when a print or two just will not come out. My hope with this series is to help you keep the mistakes to a minimum as I think I have made them all trying to adapt this process.

The gear you will need

Salt printing chemicals

An image of the chemicals in brown bottles used in the salt printing process

Thankfully all of the chemicals that you will need to do salt printing can be found in a convenient kit made by  Bostick and Sullivan. You can buy the kit online from their website, It comes well packaged and protected  and it’s cost is reasonable. The kit contains full instructions, eye droppers for the chemicals, fixer (sodium thiosulphate), salt solution, silver nitrate( makes the paper light-sensitive), And potassium dichromate for contrast in the prints. In a future post I will detail the entire process of making a print.

The contact printing frame

The contact printing frame is one of the more crucial parts of this process so I would recommend either finding a vintage one like I did, buying a brand new one which can be extremely expensive or being crafty and making one yourself.

I experimented with making them myself but in the end I wanted a vintage one because I felt the process warranted it. It took me about a year of looking to find one in  decent shape but the 8×10 in the above images was at a reasonable price considering it was 70-90 years old.

The frame consists of a wooden outer frame with a glass front and a wooden, hinged back with pressure springs to hold the paper and negative tight against each other and the glass which is important to maintain sharpness. The hinged back allows you to check the print during development without disturbing the registration between the print and your negative.

Your printing paper

I use Bergger cot 320 8×10 sheets that come 24 sheets to a pack. Your paper is another one of those items that I would not cheap out on. Spend the money, You will save yourself a ton of frustration by trying to use cheap or inferior papers. This paper is made for alternative process work and most importantly dries flat. I dry my prints about 3/4 of the way and then press between heavy books, This way you will have a flat print for printing that is not warped or crinkled.

Print screen and a squeegee board

Now here are two things that you will need that you can most certainly go cheap on and it  won’t hurt your prints in the least. The print screen is used to evenly dry your prints. It allows air to flow over and under the print and these are used for regular film prints as well. You can buy them but here I simply took an old picture frame and taped window screen to it. Cheap and things I already had lying around. In the future I will construct a better one but this works for now.

The squeegee board was just the glass from the frame I used for the print screen with some tape around the edges for safety. It really helps to have a flat surface to squeegee prints and this does the trick nicely and basically it cost nothing.

Self healing cutting mat and hair dryer

The cutting mat will be useful in marking where to align your negative before you sensitize the paper. You can then use those marks to align your image and you will have a guide for applying the chemicals when you are under the safe light. I use 8×10 sheets of paper but my image area is 5×7 because I like the look of some white area around the image. The mat lets you be precise when centering the image and applying the chemicals on your paper. You can find these at office supply or art supply stores and the run around 20 dollars.

The hair dryer is used to simply to speed up the drying time when your chemicals are applied and to dry your finished prints. This is a cheap one that has a high and low setting and you can find them at any pharmacy.

In part two I will go over the rest of what you need to get into making your own salt prints. You really don’t need much equipment or space and with the exception of the contact printing frame can be found just about anywhere or online! Check out part two in this series detailing the rest of the equipment you need to make your own salt prints!

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.

 

Devon-A model portrait shoot

A close up portrait image of a blond haired female posing against a pink background

Breaking out from the usual

Over a year ago when I decided to get more into alternative process photography more I had come up with a personal project to break away from doing strictly landscape photography. While I am deeply passionate about landscape work I wanted to get much more involved with shooting portraits. I wanted more of a personal connection with my work and to just simply meet new people and develop some professional contacts.

I settled on salt printing as the first alternative process to get into for its ease of use, adaptability to more modern techniques and how beautiful of a process it is for portrait images. My portrait project is going to be a collection of portraits done specifically to make salt prints but also to push myself to get better at something other than landscapes.

A bad day for photography

Well wouldn’t you know it but on the day of our shoot the weather took a bit of a turn from clear skies to cold and windy. The sunset turned out pretty decent towards the end of the shoot but the cold and windy conditions complicated what we could do.  The windy conditions meant that Devon’s hair was at times blowing all over the place and in the end some images did not make the cut because of that. The wind also made it difficult to stand out in the open for any length of time but I think we were creative with the spots we did use to escape the weather for a few moments to shoot.

We were shooting on the Burlington waterfront which is an open park area right on the shores of Lake Champlain. As often the case in the winter time here the weather can change from minute to minute and this day was no exception. I had been watching the weather all day as our shoot was in the afternoon and the morning was clear and calm. The afternoon however took a turn and the wind kicked up with the temperature dropping a bit because of the wind. We did manage to use the location to our advantage shooting in stairwells, benches, out in the open and undercover of some shrubbery. With portraits they always speak for themselves……

A black and white close up portrait image of a female model a closeup color portrait of a female model a close up portrait image of a blonde haired female model in color a black and white close up portrait of a female model with a fur hood over head

Close up color image of a blond haired female model with glasses

A Portrait of a young Child- An Alternative Process Salt Print

An alternative process salt print of a young female

Alternative process Photography therapy

A little over a year ago I decided to take my Photography work in a slightly different direction. I love doing digital work but sometimes it becomes impersonal and more about moving sliders around during editing then about the work itself. Salt printing is a way for me to just slow down a little bit and really take a hands on approach with my work.

It’s like therapy in a way because it takes me out of my multi tasking mindset as a chef in my day job and puts me into a more creative one as a photographer. Embracing flaws is an important part of any alternative process photography where as digital work doesn’t have any where near the amount of flaws. It lets you go beyond the surface and see what’s below.

The print

The image above is from a digital one that I made of my daughter awhile back. While the original file is a little on the dark side it was easily fixed and the final print came out beautifully. I have been experimenting with exposure times trying to find something consistent with this process but they seem to be all over the place. Im working on doing a test strip exposure sheet in the next few weeks to better be able to find where true black is but that is a whole other post!

judging exposure times is difficult with this process but gets better with experience. Every image is slightly different and this one being on the darker side was a challenge. You really want to expose long enough that the darks are dark and do not wash out in the development process but not so long that the print goes over the edge into over exposed territory.

Knowing that most of my exposure times with my light setup are around ten minutes I settled on 13 minutes for this image. This one rode that fine line between too little and too much exposure….It’s close to being a bit too dark but during the washing procedure I knew the print would lighten a little. Overall I think maybe a minute less would have been sufficient but I was pleased regardless of how this print came out.

The take away

With salt printing I always so that you need to embrace all of it’s flaws. There are so many points along the way were you can screw up your image but it’s also satisfying to pull your print out of the wash when you get everything just right. This process is really a labor of love but like wet plate work it has such a unique look and feel. Being able to keep these vintage process’s alive and pass them on is immensely satisfying!

Female portrait made from an iPhone image- An Alternative Process Salt Print

An Alternative Process Salt Print of a female

Challenging yourself for learning and growth

So here we have a salt print that I made recently of a friend of mine from a small phone shot that she took of herself. I have been trying for awhile to get her to do a portrait session with me but this was the closest that I could get to that so far. People can be reluctant at times to have photos made of them and in this case I wanted her to see how good that she looks in a print.

I also like to make prints from phone images wether they are big or on the small side. Beautiful prints like this prove that it isn’t the gear you have that makes for excellent images but the creative potential that is put into the image. The image itself was one of her more popular ones and it really resonated with her friends and family that saw it. I thought that it would be an excellent candidate for a salt print.

The original image

Phone image of a red haired female in winter with a fur hooded winter coat

You can see here in this original capture that I took from her Facebook page there are some interesting things going on. The eyes here are compelling and what I thought would really make an interesting salt print but the image has a few flaws which for sure made making a print of it a challenge. The eyes tell the whole story and for me thats the best part about working with alternative process photography.

Now the hard part was that this was a compressed Facebook image so already we are challenged because it’s impossible to edit a jpeg really without degrading the file but what saves this image is that I print all of my salt prints at 5×7. Because it wasn’t a large print it’s harder to detect any flaws in the image due to viewing distance. Even up close you really cannot tell where the image came from.

First I did a basic crop of the image. While I did like the hand placement on her hood it didn’t add much to the face which was really where I wanted the focus. This side of the image was cropped out as well as the left side with the blown out highlights in the too corner, Highlights like that really do not show up well at all in a salt print so I made the crop in a 5×7 size and came up with a pleasing image to make s digital negative on transparency sheets with.

I did not do much editing, Just some very basic tweaks of exposure, clarity, contrast and dehazing. The file didn’t need much pushing as there was nice contrast between the lights and darks. The dehazing brought out some of her natural freckles which otherwise were lost in the face highlights. The tight crop and light edits made for a really beautiful salt print which is an excellent way to present portraits.

The salt print

The print itself really didn’t pose any problems for me as I have really perfected my process over the past year with it. The only issue I had with the print was the exposure time. The darks in a salt print get washed out a bit in the developing process so you have to overdevelop just a bit and make the darks really dark so the final print isn’t too light.

Here I thought while the end print was fantastic it needed maybe two more minutes under the lamp to darken the blacks more. The final print was a bit light but still perfectly acceptable. The final exposure time was ten minutes which in the end wasn’t quite enough time. These vintage image processes for me are all about embracing their flaws along with a more personal connection to the work.

The Industrial World- An iPhone image

Wood chip energy production facility

A Photographer set adrift

As I continue with tweaking this site and getting it ready to go live I have hit another snag….The desktop that I use for all of my image work has finally seen the end of it’s working days. I am currently waiting on one part to complete the build of my new machine but in the meantime I cannot do any image editing with the exception of my iPhone.

Working with an iPhone has it’s advantages and disadvantages for sure but I try to embrace all of the quirks of shooting with a phone and enjoy the spontaneity of it. If I had my choice I would shoot with my big camera but my phone lets me jump from composition to composition much quicker and I can work just a little bit faster.

Being in the moment

I think the best part of only using my phone for photography is that I can really be in the moment and listen to my creative instincts. It’s easy to miss images when you have preconceived ideas about what you want to shoot and the everyday of your life often can get overlooked. I don’t like to trap myself by shooting only one specific subject in a day.

I like to let the ideas and creativity be more free flowing and fluid rather than static. Usually when you are doing some mundane task you are not paying attention from moment to moment but if you keep an open mind you can see images even in a wood power generating plant scrap wood pile.

The Industrial Plant

The McNeil generating station started operation in 1984 and uses wood to produce electricity for the city of Burlington, Vermont. Coal was the predominate energy source up until that time with natural gas not as widely available as it is today in the area and with oil prices rising wood was a viable alternative. Today of course we have many more environmentally friendly options but at the time this was a better alternative to coal.

On the day that I made this image I was out and about doing some chores and I had a bit of scrap pallet wood to bring down to the plant. They do allow residents to bring in scrap wood and wood debris for burning at the plant and the resulting pile can get quite large. I really noticed the color on the plant buildings with the flat light from the clouds overhead but the pile of wood right under the view of the plant got my creative eye going.

A quick composition

As the drop off spot for wood scraps can be quite busy I had to move quickly when it came time to shoot this image. As I was unloading my wood into the scrap pile I noticed how the wood framed the bottom of the image with the power station sitting slightly above. I thought here we have an interesting composition with the cloudy sky above that really gives you a sense of place and that tells a story.

I was really happy with how this image came out and editing on my phone with the apps I have lets me tweak colors, etc. with the difficult lighting conditions of an overcast day. Sometimes with this flat light it can mess with the colors in your images giving them an almost grey appearance. With an open mind however I made use of a decent composition and did not let an image opportunity pass me by.