During the Winter months here in Vermont we go through cold snaps and this year has been no exception. In December of 2017 we had a few weeks where the temps ranged from zero to well below zero on a daily basis. Difficult shooting conditions for not only your body but all of your camera gear as well. Armed with plenty of cold weather protection I went out on a 20 below zero evening to shoot the sunset over Lake Champlain.
Generally when it is that cold with wind you don’t really have a whole lot of time to make images. I was only ably to stand it for about an hour but I did manage to get this image as the clouds wandered by. As the sun was setting the clouds started to dissipate but luckily the ones that were around reflected some really nice light around the scene. I did not have a ton of time to hunt for compositions as this light was fading fast and the cold made it tough for operating the camera.
Despite all of the challenges in shooting during bitter cold temps I was able to use this foreground rock to anchor everything else in the background. Sometimes with lake ice due to wave action it gets pushed up against the shoreline even with the rest of the lake not entirely frozen over. I think it adds some interesting contours to the scene and it does add to the cold, Winter feel. The pop of color in the sky at least adds some much-needed warmth. Typically these scenes shoot towards the blue side with the snow and ice and the sunset gives it another range of colors and interest.
The image here is a blend of two images that I shot, One for the foreground and one for the sky. In most situations it can be hard to match up exposures as the foreground is always going to be much darker so two separate exposures are needed so you can see the detail in the foreground. I also used a three stop graduated neutral density filter to hold back some light in the sky and pull out some of that color.
The advantage of shooting in raw is that I can bring the image back to what my eyes were seeing. The camera at times might not accurately pick up the color happening especially in the foreground snow. In this case I wanted to lighten up the foreground and add a touch of color to the light that was reflecting off of the snow.
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.
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.
I think as photographers we all want to make that one image, That one money shot that will define us as artists and keep people talking. A challenge that I think gets overlooked all to often is making the everyday, the mundane look extraordinary especially in a photograph. With the Winter sun setting so far south right now here in Vermont it can be difficult from where I live to shoot a decent sunset over Lake Champlain. In the first week of January I made a quick trip south along the lake to see what I could find. This day was particularly grey and uninviting for photography but my photography sixth sense kicked in when I noticed some small breaks in the cloud cover. I had a feeling that some great light was going to come my way during this sunset and I found my way to the Charlotte Town Beach in Charlotte, Vermont.
This beach is a small one 15 to 20 minutes away from where I live in Burlington and this was my first visit to the location. The beach is more of a rocky one than a sandy one and at first glance you wouldn’t think that there would be much to shoot. After investigating compositions for a while and getting a feel for the location I started to really notice some nice lines and curves in the sand along the shoreline. As I was shooting in the opposite direction to this image I was keeping a watchful eye on the sky and sure enough the clouds started to break a bit as the sun was setting. I turned my attention to this tree which looks south down Lake Champlain and for about 5 minutes the sky opened up with some pretty amazing color!
A very small window of sky and color opened up framing this small tree that sits on one end of the beach. The suns position really made the oranges and pinks pop and I really couldn’t believe it. Winters can be quite harsh here and this Winter we have seen very little in the way of snowfall so getting to witness this was quite a boost to my spirits! With very little time I was frantically running around on this rocky beach and settled on this composition. I really didn’t have much time and after shooting several frames this beautiful light and clouds got swallowed up by more clouds dashing this great sunset. There hasn’t been many times that I have been made speechless as a photographer but this was one of them.
Lake Champlain spans quite a distance from the Canadian border along almost the entire length of the state sharing it’s shoreline with New York as well. The Champlain Valley is a low lying area with a lot of farms and rural areas and during the Spring this year I was able to capture a sunset from a new location. With several smaller mountains in the area there are a number of shooting opportunities but this location which sits in the middle of pasture land is wide open and provides more than a 180 degree view of the entire Champlain Valley. The views of this valley and the Adirondack Mountains beyond is quite impressive and not to be missed!
The area here is part of a network of hiking trails and an overlooked gem in the area. I myself had no idea of the potential here until recently when I talked with the people who were living on the property. The ridge that overlooks this scene was part of a working farm and there were some barns and a giant old farmhouse on the land. I was bale to get some shots of the barns however currently the house is in the process of being moved so there isn’t any access to the old buildings. However you can still go and explore other parts of this location as well as this view!
I shot this image in the early Spring so the tree growth was just beginning to come in. I was lucky enough to get some decent clouds and color in the sky as the sun was setting over the Adirondacks. Processing was minimal here with my usual standard edits but I changed the white balance slightly to emphasis the golden color that was present from the sun. I really love the rural feel to this image as it is a part of Vermont that is rapidly disappearing.
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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.
There are lots of things that I love about the Vermont landscape. It is in a constant state of struggle between Modernization and the rural, farm life of days past. There are so many places to explore and a lot of them happen to be short distances away from where I live. I feel blessed to be able to jump in my car and within a half hour bear witness to scenes such as this sunset. This was a new location for me but the sweeping views of Lake Champlain and the lower Champlain Valley are just not to be missed!
The view here is from Snake Mountain which is 30-45 minutes away from where I live in Burlington. An easy drive to a small mountain requiring a hike of an hour or so to the top. At the top of the mountain is remnants of an old hotel foundation and a clear lookout of more than 180 degrees both North and South along Lake Champlain. From here you get quite the impressive view of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains on the New York side of the lake. This image was shot in March as Spring was approaching with a bit of snow still left on the valley floor.
Sunset happens fast here because as the sun sets the valley floor gets progressively darker and you lose the good light. You really have only a few minutes to catch this glancing light in the Lower valleys as the sun dips behind the Adirondacks. If you get up top early and are patient then the best light will be yours for making images!
Sunset on Lake Champlain just does not get any better than when you have some ice to reflect all of the wonderful color coming from the sunset! We had several freeze/thaw cycles in Burlington and on the lake this year which made for some really great ice formations and photography compositions along the shoreline. I was able to get out and capture a few of these spectacular sunsets and this one really did not disappoint. I come to this spot quite often as it offers up many types of compositions but a really grand view of New York and the Adirondack Mountains.
With all of the wave action on the shoreline at times it can become quite built up with ice humps making getting closer to the water difficult. Here I went for a wide shot to get some of the clouds in the sky but also because it was hard to get down any lower in this particular spot. The ice was at an interesting angle to the shore verses in a straight line and I thought this added some interest to this wide shot with the mountains and sunset beyond. The reflected color really added quite a bit of drama to this one!
Here in this image I made a blend of two shots, One for the sky and background and one for the foreground ice. The foreground was quite a bit darker than the sky and I wanted to pick up all of that reflected color from the sky in the ice which was hard to pick up on from the exposure difference. The two images were blended in Photoshop with some tweaks to the colors and white balance. A few simple edits really brought out those colors and made this one shine!
Finally after a few months of what I like to call a photography slump I am finally getting some decent Winter images. I did almost no shooting in November and December but things really started to pick up in January as the weather conditions improved and I wasn’t sick with whatever the newest funk was going around. I suppose we all go through these slumps from time to time but I fought tooth and nail through it and I am having a great time getting out and shooting the Vermont landscape again!
I shot this image the first week in February after a warm-up/freeze which left some really awesome ice formations along the shores of Lake Champlain. When this happens you have an unlimited set of compositions as long as there isn’t any snow to cover up the ice. In between storm systems the clouds opened up just enough for me to be able to make this shot. The cloud system here is streaking in a northerly direction with some build up happening in the left top of the frame. I take what nature throws at me so I let the sun and clouds do it’s thing and I was able to make this shot.
What really drew me into this image was the color from the sunset reflecting off of the ice. I thought the combination of the ice formations with the color on the ice was just too good to miss! I made two exposures here…One for the foreground ice and the other for the sky and background which I merged in Photoshop. I wanted to get some more light into the foreground as it was darker than the background but I also wanted to get as much of that reflecting color as I could. The blending made it possible to achieve both and come up with a unique shot of Winter’s grip on the lake.
Finally after a tough start to the Winter I feel like I am getting into a photography groove again! The weather is still hit or miss and 9 times out of 10 I get skunked with the light but I feel that I am still getting out to shoot as much as I can and making some decent images despite all of the complications this Winter. Last week we got a few snow storms and in between the two storm systems the light and clouds cooperated so I made my way down to the lake to finally get some ice shots at sunset.
The lake has been in a cycle of freezes and thaws which create these really fantastic shapes in the ice as the waves move it toward shore. When there is no snow cover on the ice it is a great opportunity for some great foreground interest in a photograph at sunrise or sunset. Another bonus for shooting ice or snow at sunrise or sunset is that they take up whatever color is in the sky and you can get some really brilliant color if the light is right. In this image I did not get that effect as much because I was pointed a little bit away from where the sun was setting but the clouds here were pretty awesome!
I focused in on this cracked piece of ice sticking up from the water and setting my tripod low to the ground I crawled out onto the ice to make the shot. I took a risk here on the ice closer too shore as I could here ice cracking everywhere and you could feel the movement of the waves in the ice. However it was quite strong here in the image so without any danger I shot a few frames for focus and exposure and blended them together. The clouds really gave this one a painterly quality as they were drifting in straight lines off to the north and not directly overhead. Images like this make sitting out in the cold on lake ice worth it!
Finally we are getting some favorable conditions for Winter photography but for quite a few months I was worried we wouldn’t have much of a Winter here in Burlington. I shot today’s image a few weeks ago during a warm spell that broke up a good portion of the lake ice that we did have. Now we have a good deal of snow and Lake Champlain is completely frozen over for the first time since 2007! It has been a tough Winter for me with lots of different things keeping me from shooting regularly but I do what I can and go out as often as I can.
As the warming temps here a few weeks ago broke up the lake ice the waves push the leftovers ashore into these really interesting formations among the rocks of the shoreline. For the first time in weeks we had a decent sunset with some nice clouds and I was really looking for a nice bit of ice to use as a foreground to the clouds and color of the sunset. Needless to say even with the warm temps the ground around this composition was quite icy but with a little care I was able to pull off this image!
This is a blended image of two frames that I shot for sharpness and exposure as the foreground ice was much darker than the sky. I merged the two images in Photoshop, equalized the exposure between the two images and made my usual general corrections to come up with the final piece. The clouds were moving quite fast at this point so I had to shoot fast to catch them before they were gone along with the color! The view is looking North from Oaklege Park to Rock Point.
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