A Winter sunset on Lake Champlain

Winter sunset with clouds on Lake Champlain looking towards the Adirondack MountainsDuring 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.

Blended landscape image from Photoshop before lightroom edits are applied
Here is the two exposures blended in Photoshop but before any Lightroom editing and cropping. The camera doesn’t always pick up all of the color that my eye can see both in the sky and the foreground. using my artistic vision I have to interpret that and apply it to my photograph.

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.

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.

 

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.

A Stones Throw

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Rock formations with storm clouds on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont at sunrise.

Lake Champlain here in Burlington, Vermont really is quite a beautiful site but I think the best time to shoot is during the sunrise hours. There is something about the calm waters and cool air that is hard to describe but easier to capture in an image. This Summer as I am laid off from my day job at the University of Vermont I took a temp job working 9-5 hours five days a week. I had to change my shooting schedule to the sunrise hours only and I have not been disappointed with that switch! I get up at four a.m. every morning and probably nine times out of ten I get skunked with terrible skies but it’s that tenth time that is worth getting up for.

On the day I shot this image a storm had passed through the area and another one was on its way in and this is what you are seeing in this image here. There was a bit of clearing in the sky with the next storm building right behind it. I love the light in the early morning hours that these types of storm clouds produce in the morning so getting up is almost always going to be fruitful as far as making images. The water was calm, the cloud formations were awesome and I happened to see this interesting formation of rocks along the shoreline at Oakledge Park.

I shot and blended two images here for exposure and sharpness throughout the scene. The rock formations here are in a bit of deep shadow and an image blend was needed here to really see the detail in the rocks as well as exposing properly for the beautiful clouds over head. I blended them together with a simple gradient in Photoshop and performed my usual tweaks in Lightroom. Nothing major as far as editing but an adjustment in white balance was also needed to balance everything together into a seamless image. Never underestimate morning clouds as the sun starts to rise…Boring skies will usually change to phenomenal in an instant!

Red Storm

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

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

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

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

Summer Storm

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Storm front moving over Lake Champlain from the New York side.

Sometimes you have to give up a night of shooting to step back a bit from the camera and do some scouting for future shots. Last week I did just that, However as always I never leave home without my camera gear. I decided to take a walk o the bike path which runs along the Lake Champlain shoreline here in Burlington. It extends into the next town of Colchester and makes its way out to the Champlain islands which is some distance away.

I really was hoping for a bit of color but the hot and humid conditions had other plans. My intention was to scout out the shoreline on the northern section of the bike path but the beach areas here are pretty shabby and the high water right now essentially means there is no beach in these areas. As I was walking along the storm clouds kept building gradually covering up the sky and this was towards the end when I knew the color wasn’t going to appear and the rain was going to let loose at any minute!

The very hot and humid conditions made for a pretty boring raw file when I first looked at this one. There was a misty haze in the bottom of the frame from all the humidity and I am not sure how to describe it but I really think the humidity does something to an image. This one just had a weird vibe to it until I converted it into a black and white. Some simple processing in Silver Efex Pro 2 really brought out the drama in this one almost as if the clouds were swallowing up the brighter areas in the sky! It really was an awesome sight watching this storm build!

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

Erosion

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Cracked rocks and sunset over Lake Champlain from Oakledge park.

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

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

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

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

One Fine Day

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Boating on Lake Champlain at sunset.

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

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

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

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

Mars Is Burning

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

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

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

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

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

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Sharkstooth

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A section of Honey Hollow Falls on Preston Brook as it flows downhill.

The last time I visited these falls I came from downstream going up and I completely missed this section! I felt kind of silly looking up the actual location on Google being that I live here in Vermont but you do what you gotta do to get your image! Preston Brook runs downhill here to Honey Hollow Falls on what I can accurately describe as a very steep logging road. It is a fairly deep gorge with sloping sides of wet and slippery rock. You get some nice subdued light in the gorge but you must observe caution here as the walls are steep and difficult to navigate in spots.

The hike down is worth it because in this small section you have some interesting colored rock with several small pools and compositions. The only limiting factor here is a huge pine tree has now fallen into the gorge just off to camera right. The tree makes composing difficult at times and it will require a few more visits to fully explore the potential here. The day that I was here was overcast but the sun was peeking out of the clouds at times. Looking downstream you get this great tunnel view effect with sunlight filtering down through the green trees at the end.

The foreground rock is unique to the falls in that the rest of the rock has a blue/ grey tint with this really interesting formation. The falls here are narrow so after thousands of years the water has carved an interesting curving shape into the red colored rock. Lots more potential here but again compositions can be quite difficult due to the tight quarters in this gorge. This spot is always worth a visit as it’s only about a half hour away at the base of Camels Hump!

Image Data: ISO 100. 17mm. F11 @ 4 seconds. Two images merged for sharpness Foreground image was of the curved rock and water pool and the second was of the rocks and forest in the background. Shot with a Cokin Circular Polarizer.