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Sunday, 24 June 2012 06:44

In the Footsteps of Giants

In 1987, the Amon Carter Museum organized a retrospective of Eliot Porter's work which became the basis of a book published that year by New York Graphic Society Books. The cover image instantly became one of the most endearing examples of his work, and its subject became my favorite wildflower; but it would be twenty years before I would see my first Bunchberry. It remains my favorite. A near relative of the Dogwood, in North America it grows only in boreal (northern) coniferous forests, like that found in Maine. So while Acadia National Park may be a vision of fall color to some, to me it's the home of the Bunchberries. There are many places throughout Mount Desert Island, and indeed throughout the entire state, where Bunchberry can be found. Sometime in mid-June, depending on location, is usually the peak of the blooming season. I was wandering along one of the trails near the Seawall section of the park when I saw this small cluster growing up among the detritus of a woodpecker's destruction of an old hemlock stump. The soft, serene beauty of the leaves and blossoms juxtaposed with the rough texture of the decaying wood immediately caught my eye. Using my 90mm macro lens, I framed a section of the larger cluster against some of the interesting pieces of the fallen wood. I wanted as much sharp detail throughout the image as possible, so I set the aperture to f/22 and placed the lens as parallel to the elements of the scene as I could. At ISO 100 a shutter speed of 2.5 seconds was necessary in the forest interior to give me an overall slightly-lighter-than-medium exposure. While pre-visualizing a particular image is sometimes exactly what is required for success, often just wandering with no preconceived notions other than looking for beauty where it might be found is the most creative way to travel.

Saturday, 16 June 2012 21:16

The Electric Lime-Aid Water Test

Bubble Pond in Acadia National Park is a place of many moods and many faces. I have photographed its surface when it displays a mirror image so exactingly sharp that it seems almost polished. But this day Bubble Pond's surface was a wind-blown abstraction that reflected two distinctly separate light sources - the greens of spruce-fir and hardwood trees and the brown-golds of a dead hemlock tree, all on the sun-lit opposite shore from where I stood. Their juxtaposition was a yin-yang relationship that could be isolated with a long enough focal length. In that isolating context, the side-lit vertical grasses became further aspects of the abstract qualities I was seeking, while the contrast between the electric, more energized green and the pacific brown-gold came to symbolize the interaction of motion and rest. An aperture of f/5.6 gave me a shutter speed of 1/13th second at ISO 100; and a focal length of 300mm allowed me to isolate only the information I wished to include. Since total depth-of-field at that aperture opening and focal length combination is only a few feet at best, it is inevitble that somewhere the image begins to be soft. I focused in the middle of the frame, and allowed the foreground and background to be less than tack sharp. I might have increased the IS0 and given myself a smaller aperture - and, thus, more depth, but chose to remain at 100 to keep digital noise at a minimum. A slower shutter speed would begin to smooth out the surface tension of the water, reducing and ultimately eliminating the electric qualities I wanted to preserve.

Saturday, 09 June 2012 21:30

In the Maine Woods

Acadia National Park has many iconic scenes; but as much as any of them, it is the reality of the Northwoods forests that captivates me. The dark spruce-fir environments are a wonderland of moss-covered floors which seem like firm feather mattresses when walked on. Reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina) is a ubiquitous presence that seems to beckon the eye to follow as it leads you deeper into the rich beauty of the great woods. Like attentive, watchful parents, the giant conifers guard the understory of their children's nursery as the saplings slowly become the future generations. And scattered throughout are the stony evidences of the wasting of the granite uplifts that inform the Acadian landscape. It is nature's own magic kingdom. It was the foreground boulder that caught my eye as it lay in its dense bed of lichen that formed a pathway leading me back into the woods. The two small boulders, themselves, create an implied diagonal line that carry the eye past the foreground and into the image. Seeing wide-angle possibilities is often a matter of recognizing foreground, mid-ground, and background elements and their relationships with each other. With a focal length of 33mm I was able to eliminate extraneous parts of the scene while still achieving wide-angle perspective. An aperture of f/20 gave me enough depth-of-field for sharpness throughout. A shutter speed of 1.3 seconds at ISO 100 gave me an overall medium exposure.

Sunday, 03 June 2012 07:07

A Journey with Heart

When a late-afternoon shower left a low-lying cloud along the top of the ridge near our home recently, I checked the forecast and learned that the overnight winds would be fairly calm. Sure enough, next morning the clouds were still there, and I had a feeling that this location on the Blue Ridge Parkway would be shrouded in the mists. Beech forests are wonderful, amazing, high-elevation eco-systems that commonly occur in gaps on ridges that have come to be known as "beech gaps." Because the beeches in these places are often stunted, their understories are more open, encouraging the growth of grasses. It's speculated that the beeches themselves put a chemical in the soil that inhibits the growth of firs and spruces. In this particular beech gap the Mountains-to-Sea Trail passes, crossing over the roots and rocky outcrops of the ridgetops, and in late spring the grasses are full and lush. I was looking for a spot where the trail made an interesting little twist as it crossed the ridge and where the trees were not very large and were gnarled into appealing shapes in such a way that their relationships to each other in the fog created a moody, emotional intimate landscape. The green leaves of the saplings and lower branches seemed to add a little brightness to the mood, as well as to add some nice framing for the top and left sides. I wanted the beech in the right foreground to anchor the image and to allow the trees behind it, being visually smaller in comparison, to create the illusion of depth as the eye travels along the path and disappears into the cloud. This is known as diminishing perspective. I allowed the path to run roughly down the right-third grid line, and though the visual weight is on the left, it is effectively balanced by the "larger" foreground tree and its allies on the right. At 60mm of focal length I had eliminated the extraneous visual information I did not want. F/16 allowed me plenty of depth-of-field; and at ISO 100, a shutter speed of 4.0 seconds gave me an overall medium exposure.  

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