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Sunday, 26 February 2012 09:25

Black Balsam Dawn Abstract

The bookends of the day, sunrise and sunset, are special moments, even if you've seen them and photographed them a thousand times, because every time you do, they are different. For me the first moments of new light are always magical, especially if I am in a still, quiet place- which doesn't necessarily mean silent - in the natural world, where I can observe the day as it arrives and hear the world as it begins to stir. The Blue Ridge Parkway offers many such locations, and I enjoy then all; but Black Balsam Mountain is one of my favorites.
And there are as many ways, nearly, to think about photographing dawn and dusk as there are locations. Given the chance to be high above a valley as it floods with light filtering through morning mist is a wonderful time to think about the abstractions that can be created by stripping away the labels that depth confers; and although I photographed this scene in several ways that included three-dimensionality, it was this two dimensional image that really spoke to me. In order to remove as much depth as I could, I used a focal length of 600mm and concentrated on an area in the valley where the lines of the trees in the fog created crossing diagonals. I moved myself as much as possible until I could get the rays of light also at a diagonal. My ISO was set on 200, and I chose an aperure of f/16 which resulted in a shutter speed of 1/3oth of a second for an overall medium exposure. Then I stood and marveled at the advent of the day.

Beauty is truly where you find it. When highway construction projects require earthen materials, these materials are sometimes dug from a convenient location and taken to be used in another. The location from which they are taken is called a "borrow pit"; and as you might imagine, it is not commonly considered as a place of great visual attraction. However, there is an old borrow pit on the side of Michigan Highway 26 in the Upper Peninsula that is, indeed, an exception. At the peak of autumn color, surrounded by blazing maples and golden cattails, the watery fill of the old pit mirrors the intimate landscape back to itself in an explosion of wonder. It's a place where you could spend much of a day and never exhaust the amazing possibilities for imagery. 
I knew that I wanted to include a small line of cattail tops in the bottom of the frame as a foreground to add some depth, and I wanted these to appear to continue around from right to left into the mid-ground cattails; but I also wanted the eye to be able to freely move across the water past the grass clumps and into the stumps and reflections before arriving at the maples on the far shoreline and then following the implied C-curve of maple color from right to left, up and across the top of the frame to the top right of the image. I had to position myself and choose a focal length that would give me an angle of view and control of element sizes (magnification) that would accomplish this and not include any of the unappealing gray sky in the frame. An aperture of f/22 gave me the depth-of-field I needed; and from a distance of about 35-40' from the cattails I was able to achieve an angle of view with a focal length of 255mm that allowed me to arrange the elements as I wanted them and eliminate the sky as well as other unwanted aspects of the pit itself. A shutter speed of 1.3 seconds gave me an overall exposure value of medium. I chose to use polarization very minimally since I did not want to lose the wonderful reflected color in the water, and this meant that I would have more reflectance on the cattails than I might have wanted, but it seemed like a compromise worth making.

Sunday, 12 February 2012 09:13

Hurricane River Sunset

The place where Hurricane River flows out of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore into Lake Superior is quite magical. And the scene changes from year to year as winter storms shift the beach around relocating the channel of the river. However, the cant of the beach with regard to the sun's path remains constant and in early autumn the solar disc sets nearly parallel to the line of the shore. In this particular year the channel of the river was forced to take a longer route to the lake and happened to line up nicely with the setting sun. The difficulty was in getting close enough to the very large rocks (small boulders) in the channel to use them as foreground elements. In fact, I was kneeling in the water - about 3" deep - where my tripod was located, and keeping the three legs steady in the unstable sand was one of the more interesting aspects of the image.
What I saw in my mind's eye was clearly something wide-angle that included the channel; the rocks; part of the tree-line and the shoreline; and enough sky to take in the sun, the cloud bank it was dropping into, and the small patch of cirrus above the sun that added interest. With that, I opened the focal length of my lens to 18mm.  With my 5-stop graduated neutral density filter I held back the tonality of the sky and opened up the dark foreground. An ISO of 100, an aperture of f/22, and a shutter speed of 2.5 seconds  gave me an overall exposure value of slightly darker than medium. Last fall was the first time in eleven years that I did not photograph in the Upper Peninsula, so I'm really looking forward to a reunion in 2012.

Sunday, 05 February 2012 17:38

When the Leaves Are Gone, GSMNP, TN

We tend to think of spring and fall as the most photogenic seasons. I think that may be because of the great variety of colors present in those times of the year; but I also think that it's worthwhile to remember that color is only one of the elements of graphic design. Many years ago I learned that lines are what I see most naturally; so it was quite natural that, when I found myself in midst of the Smokies on a fog-filled morning last winter, the lines of the cove hardwoods would catch my attention. The straight verticals of the large poplars stood in such stark contrast to the wispy, curving saplings of redbud and dogwood. Taking my camera and tripod, I moved up and down along the edge of the forest near the Chimneys Picnic Area until I found a spot where there were the fewest mergers among the big trees and at the same time a juxtaposition among them of the curving saplings creating a contrast between the two forms that was highlighted by the fog. An aperture of f/16 gave plenty of depth of field to create sharpness in the trunks I wanted to appear as sharp, knowing that the fog would tend to make the background trees appear soft anyway. Given the low-light conditions, and using an ISO of 100, the accompanying shutter speed for a slightly darker-than-medium exposure was 1.0 second. The focal length that allowed me to isolate just the number of poplars I wanted in the image to create what I felt was a balanced composition was 69mm. I did both horizontal and vertical compositions, but preferred the horizontal because I felt it emphasized the shapes of the saplings.   

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