Mud season is a tough time for the nature photographer. Conditions are varied, ever changing, and rarely ‘classically beautiful.’ Throw in the heavy rain and flooding of the past week, and well, I don’t have much new to share.
These down times are a good time to work on both the past and the future in the photography world. The past…I’m notoriously bad at backing up my work. I just am. I always drop my best RAW files from a shoot onto an off site server, but the majority of my images sit on two parallel hard drives in my computer, and never often enough I back up onto an off site external. There’s really no excuse for this…and for $59 dollars from newegg, I just got an new external hard drive large enough for my entire collection in case of catastrophe. As part of your spring cleaning regime…I might recommend y’all doing so as well.
As for looking forward…spring arrivals and spring weather has gotten me back into refreshing myself on the ecology and chronology of spring. I’m spending time brushing up on birdsong, pouring through wildflower books, and seeking out new locations to shoot. It’s nice to hear and see some old standbye’s and harbingers too. And though I’m not a bird photographer, it’s still nice heard the familiar calls of the woodcock, the winter wren, and the fox sparrow…and early migratory bird arrivals for the first time this week. Still no red winged black bird though. For those interested in keeping up with bird arrivals in the area, a nice site to follow is the New Hampshire Birding List.
I’m planning trips to a number of locations this spring that hold potential for spectacular landscape scenes. Waterfalls and mountain tops are my spring standbys, but I’m looking to new locations as well. After really enjoying Ponemah Bog last year, one of the places I’m most excited about is the Saco Heath, a large acidic bog in southern Maine. These environments tend to have a lot of unique plant life, including carnivourous plants. But Rhodora, a small flowering shrub with showy pink blossoms, also grows well in the bogs, and I’m hoping it’ll put on a great show in Mid May.
Lastly for this week, with a bit more of mud season to go, I’ll be in research mode for a bit longer. Spring wildflowers then begin in the first weeks of April. In the mean time, I’d love to hear from you as to your favorite places to shoot in spring. If there are any special places in southern and central NH, or southern Maine that I should know about, please let me know…
There have been two things that I’ve long wanted to do, and have consistently been put on the back seat for one reason or another the past few years. One is catch sunrise from Wildcat as the alpenglow hits the eastern slopes of Mount Washington. The other is to learn to telemark ski, to ease the burden of winter travel.
I’ve always been a snowboarder, but the desire to telemark ski began a few years back on a predawn hike to Tuckerman Ravine with my buddy Greg Petrics of famousinternetskiers.com. Greg moved up the mountain with ease as I labored under the weight of snowshoes on the feat and snowboard and camera gear on my back. I still owe Greg for his help that day. This winter, I finally got the equipment, and went out a few times to try it out…it’s tough! I’m by no means competent, but was confident I could survive down the Polecat this weekend.
My fiance is always nervous about midnight hikes, so we were both relieved that my friend Ryan, the night observer at the Observatory, was on his off week, and up for the hike. We were up at 2:30 and on the trail by 3:30. As this was my first time on skins, it took a bit to get the feel of the motion of it all, but was SO glad to have begun making the switch. During the hike, we watched a quarter moon rise over the Carters, and illuminate the large mountain of pure white snow ‘across the street’. Just beautiful.
The summit and the sunrise arrived at about the same time, and moderate winds, relatively mild conditions made for fairly easy shooting. The alpenglow was intense, but the clouds were lacking to catch the early light. I also struggled for foreground in the compositions, and am pledging to hike the ridge this summer to look for other angles and outlooks.
By 7AM the show was over. I took off the skins and began the trip down. I mentioned that I thought I could survive the trip down. Barely survive I did. With heavy pack and tired legs, it was slow, and tough going. I certainly wouldn’t insult the art and sport of telemarking by claiming that what I did was that. But it was fun.
An interesting final note…as I reached the bottom, I was greeted by some of my current students, just beginning their day of skiing as the lifts began to turn. Though they are aware of my odd hiking hours, I think that they were a bit confused as I was putting the skis in the car as the lot began to fill. But, I was tired and breakfast at Pinkham was calling. A full day by 8AM!
Well, it’s good to be back at my computer after a prolonged power outage last week. The remainder of vacation week did not allow me to accomplish many of my shooting goals, as the weather really never cleared. I still hope to make a few trips up north before the snow disappears…as there are some views I need. Look for a sunrise from Wildcat, a sunset from Pierce, and a glorious wide shot from Tuckerman Ravine at somepoint before May if all goes to plan. Heck, after the challenging weather and lack of views during the past week…I’ll take one of those!
I was fortunate to be in a great location on the one clear day last week. I mentioned in brief that I spend the night on Mount Washington last Monday, and have edited down my favorite shot of the week. Stacey Kawecki, an observer at the Mount Washington Observatory can be seen here taking in the magnificent undercast around the Southern Presidentials. Not much to this shot besides right place and right time. I did have a polarizer on…but I believe that’s it. You can view the shot below in a larger format here.
For winter shots, time is running out. Signs of seasonal change are all around us already. This morning I drove to work in partial daylight, and the sunrise/sunset will break the 6 o’clock barrier on each end by mid-month. The edges of ponds and lakes are thawing. The forests are awakening from their deep winter state of dead quiet, and birdsong is beginning. The cardinals and finches are becoming vocal…and soon the wrens and red wing blackbirds will start. And though a long way from leaf out…the pussy willows around my neighborhood are beginning to pop! The first wildflowers, the hepatica, the colt’s foot and the skunk cabbage, are about a month away!
All this certainly doesn’t mean that winter is over, but the seasonal transition is a nice time of year, and spring fever is a good state of mind to be in!
The pursuit of pictures has become the main activity that I partake in while experience the wilderness, but the enjoyment of the outdoors is always the goal. There is so much to experience, learn about and generally see in the world around us, it’d take many lifetimes before I could experience it all. But I’ll try…
After the great light show at Chocorua Sunday morning, the light changed dramatically, and clouds and snow quickly moved in. My buddy Ed O’Malley, also a photographer, was up visiting the area, and we decided to just tour the Southern Whites, visiting some popular summer spots to see what they looked like in winter. Just for the experience…and maybe some passable shots would come out of it.
I’d like to share some snapshots of those experiences:
First stop was Beede Falls, just north of Squam Lake. I was hoping that there would be water flowing through ice, possibly leading to some photo-ops…but what we found was just amazing. The water was completely encased, but you could get behind the ice in a truly spectacular cave of water in all three states! Great experience #1 of the day…
From there we went to the Flume Gorge, which if you’ve never been to in the winter, you really owe it to yourself to climb through. Traction recommended…as the whole place, walls, brook and underfoot was one spectacular ice formation. Just an amazing thing to see.
Continuing on in Franconia Notch, we poked around ‘The Basin’ and found a great world of ice and water. This location yielded what was for me, my favorite shots of the day after sunrise in the brook above the main pothole.
The last location was Beaver Pond in Kinsman Notch. The ice on the pond was wind whipped smooth, and the fresh snowfall was blowing by with impressive ferocity. We probably sat on the ice for about 45 minutes just watching the patterns in the blowing snow. Unfortunately, with all the snow in the air, a lot of snow got trapped between my filters, and became unusable…so I’ll direct you to Ed’s shots for that:
In winter it seems that so many people lock themselves in and wait until spring…but those who do are truly missing out…there are some truly spectacular sights to see in the heart of winter!
I’ve been looking forward to this vacation week for some time now, and have been planning out lots of shots for my gallery. Among the ideas were a bunch of shots of Mount Washington, including sunrise from Wildcat’s summit, and sunsets from Pierce and Martha. As a photographer though, the one thing you cannot count on though is the weather, and this week proved that. Mount Washington has been in the clouds every day except the one day I was on it, and looks to be socked in through the end of the week. Add to that the rain in the forecast, and well, I’m home early!
Even though I didn’t get to accomplish many of my pre-planned goals, I did have a productive few days of shooting, and look forward to sharing some images, some stories and some knowledge in the coming days. And a good place to start with that is the beginning…
Sunday morning I drove up from my house at 4AM to catch sunrise at Chocorua Lake. The view over the lake to stunning Mount Chocoura is one of the most photographed views in the state, and I’ve tried to get a decent sunrise from this location over a dozen times, with little luck. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t confident this morning either.
I met my buddy Ed O’Malley (I’ll share some of his shots next post) there a bit before sunrise, just as some GOOD light was hitting the clouds looming over the peak! Luck had finally changed!
Over the next half hour the pinks and oranges of first light moved from the high clouds to the low clouds to the mountains themselves before being pinched off by clouds near the horizon. I focused my efforts on the line of ice and open water near the bridge, which coincidentally seemed to take the shape of the mountain looming above it. Symmetry at its best…
A note on the technicals…all of these were shot with four stops of ND filtration, and a polarizer to cut the light. Many of my exposures that morning ranged from 10 to 20 seconds…which really helps the color saturation pop!
I have a bunch of shots to examine and edit through, but these are early favorites. Would love to hear how they strike you…
Thanks for reading…more to share soon!
While on school vacation this week, I’ve been fortunate to do some assignment work for the Mount Washington Observatory. The weather conditions were perfect yesterday, including light winds, undercast and heavy rime accumulations.
I won’t be able to post a full report of this and other vacation week travels for a bit, but you can read about the assignment shoot at the Mount Washington Observatory website.
I would like to thank all of the followers of my photography and this blog for the great comments, questions and correspondence that I received in response to my series with the foxes at Carter Notch this past weekend. One question that I received a few times is HOW?! And not just how did I stumble across the foxes, but how I actually took the shot. Well, here goes.
There are a few places in the White Mountains that are known to attract foxes. The summit of Mount Washington, a few of the AMC Huts, the Cog Base Station all have fairly consistent resident populations. The foxes in these locations are fairly tolerant of humans, as part of their diets there are enhanced in three likely ways. First off, these foxes do feed directly on dropped scraps, inadvertent or otherwise, but I do hope it’s mainly inadvertent. Secondly, crumbs and scraps attract rodent populations that feed the foxes, and thirdly, the heat shelter of the building naturally invites more rodents. Working with these tolerant populations is helpful, as though they are still wild and skittish, they are also curious, and you can usually get fairly close.
This round of shots was made possible when a student of mine on the hike let me know that the foxes were had dug up some discarded (not by our group) fruit loops outside of the bunk houses. The kids were on the porch taking pictures themselves, and I began sneaking around the side of the bunkhouse. My sneaking methods is a cross between a crawl and slither in very slight movements.
The camera had been set for my landscape shooting, and needed adjustment. I knew that a fast shutter speed would be necessary to capture the images hand-held without any motion blur. I ripped off my trusty filters, leaving them in the snow, dialed up the ISO to 400, and put the camera on burst mode, so I can fire off more than one shot per push of the trigger. Next I put the camera on aperture priority, and locked it wide open (F/6.3 on my Sigma 18-200mm hiking lens). This allowed for shutter speeds of around 1/1000 of a second.
Once the camera was set, it was all about position, background and composition. I tried to maneuver myself so that the fox was between me and a good background. This fine subject allowed me to capture him for about 10 minutes, at distances as close as about 20-25 feet. The session ended when he came in too close, I made a movement too sudden, and off he went.
In that time, I fired off about 50 frames. Some, the focus was off, some the composition was off and many more had awkward poses or looks. I think about four of the fifty are usable. Below is one more of the usable examples, and it needed some cropping to square to balance out an otherwise off composition.
Hope y’all find this helpful, and I’m always happy to answer questions.
This weekend, I led a trip to the AMC’s Carter Notch Hut via Pinkham Notch for an overnight stay. The conditions were perfect for winter hiking: hard packed snow with minimal ice, seasonably mild temperatures in the teens and 20s, light wind and an occasional gently falling snow. The first day went just as smoothly as it could go!
Sunday morning I awoke in the notch at a bit before 6AM to capture the sunrise, and crawled out of my bed to find a fox on the front porch. Continued wandering found limited light, but much of the fine feelings of waking up in a place that inspires awe with its beauty. When I returned to the bunkhouses, the students were excited that the fox was still around. He was curious, inquisitive and though a bit skittish, was clearly tolerant of our presence. I managed to get a few nice sets of shots off before he moved on.
On the trip down, we took a break next to the Nineteen Mile Brook. With the absence of recent snowfall, all of the detail and beauty that is usually concealed in a frozen stream was on display. I concentrated on some areas where open water was surrounded by a frozen landscape, and was most pleased by this shot about a mile from the bottom.
This shot would have capped off a perfect trip, but unfortunately, there was a cruel Valentine’s surprise waiting for us at the bottom. Overnight, vandals had smashed my and my co-leaders cars in the lot, and made off with some of our electronics.
As teachers, we like to make every moment a teachable moment, but to our students who lost their cell phones, ipods and innocent sense of security that morning, there was little we could we could do to console them after their return to the oft cruel, civilized world. The cold drive home didn’t help either…
This morning, I have a new window, a new checking account, and have a new Wolverine portable storage devise on order. A minor setback, a major inconvenience, and a lesson learned…but this one experience certainly cannot dampen my love of the Whites!