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Along The Connecticut. June 21, 2012

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I had occasion to head toward Amherst today, with the intention of showing some of my photos to a restauranteur who expressed an interest in having them on his walls.

Well, that didn’t work out – something about a “family emergency.”  That could, of course, be the case, but it’s so cliched I can’t help feeling slighted.

Anyway, having carted my wares all the way down river, I spent the late afternoon scouring the lowlands for more raw materials, knowing that the transition to Summer would produce some sort of blossoms and at least a little bit of atmospherics.

What I found was tall grass:

…laced around the edges with roadside randomness, including a LOT of Cow vetch:

This hot, dry week we’re experiencing is ideal for harvesting hay, and the grass is beautifully high, so farmers down in the valley are making hay:

Much of Hadley isn’t exactly flood plains of the Connecticut river, but more accurately viewed as the bottom of Lake Hitchcock, gone for ten millennia  but still evident by its sediments.  The land is rich despite having provided several hundred years of legendary productivity.

Haying happens several times per growing season, depending on growing and harvesting conditions.  Rain makes it grow, but dry conditions are necessary for cutting and baling, and the two don’t always coincide.

This, though, looked like a really productive mowing:

This farmer was good enough to welcome me into his field to take these photographs.    He was working for his living, and stopping for a stranger was an added task on this very hot and humid day.  I greatly appreciated his permission to shoot.

Here’s The Man round-bailing the cut, dried grass:

These round bales are tied up and dropped out of the back of this baler, whereas traditional rectangular bales are packed, wrapped and pitched into hay wagons being dragged behind the operation:

But this is Hadley, rolling lowlands which don’t flood seasonally.

Across the river to the west is Northampton, where Spring flooding is common.  The flatlands have been harrowed and planted and harvested and flooded in a cycle extending for centuries.

These days they grow corn and potatoes there, with a bio-diverse fringe of invaders separating the field roads from the crops:

That looks like wild mustard and lettuce, with mullein piercing the skyline.  I love mullein – it looks like the pacifist’s version of yucca or agave, all cuddly and hippy-friendly (they smoke it, you know!)

One of a zillion types of daisies found locally piles up between the tires and the ‘taters:

Again with Mount Holyoke’s crowning Skinner House in the distance.

Another of the volunteers which dot these dusty fields is the ubiquitous cow vetch, here seen with Mt. Tom shaping the skyline:

I think what keeps drawing me back to this decidedly lowland place (a strong hour from my hill town home) is it’s suggestion of something farther west, perhaps a view of the Heartland, maybe even something higher and drier, the alti-plano of Wyoming or Montana.

I know that if you’re from there you’re pointing and laughing, but still, it’s a feeling I get, and I’m playing with it.

All of these shots are from Elliot, my Canon TS-EII tilt-shift lens, and most benefit from the use of hand-held graduated filters to bring the brooding skies further into compliance with a photo’s useful dynamic range.  This combination is really my Standard Operating Procedure for landscape photography, though my 24-105mm zoom Allie lives on the box in my daily travels.

Thanks for hanging in there for this longish post on a place I’ve photographed numerous times before.  I keep hoping for exceptional light or some remarkable bloom, but I’m meanwhile thankful for whatever the place gives up.

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Mood Indigo. June 5, 2012

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Well, naked bear encounters hardly comprising a full day’s activity, I eventually did what needed doing around the house (including putting my pants on) and headed out to do the extra-domicular things.  You know, food shopping, banking, job hunting, and taking photos of whatever looked interesting.

As it happened, the weather sucked for kite flying and sun bathing, but for photography, not so much.  I like the tumultuous skies and brooding atmosphere of intermittent storms, so I wasn’t complaining.

My errands took me to Hadley and Northampton, so I scoped out the farmlands down along the Connecticut river.  The crops were just coming up there – tiny corn rows, truck patches of beets and cabbage in their nascent forms, and potatoes.

Potatoes seem to be the commercially viable alternative to tobacco, which used to rule this fertile valley.  We grew legendary tobacco here, used to roll the finest Cuban cigars, big fat consistent leaves perfect for wrappers.  The flood plains of the Connecticut are littered with tobacco barns, now either re-purposed or falling into disrepair.

Here’s a shot from this evening, of a ‘tater field and tobacco barns in Hatfield, with the farm road’s edge swathed in a tangle of cow vetch and bladder campion:

Regulars here will recognize Elliot’s hand, with a crisp foreground leading the eye to a reasonably sharp horizon.  Thanks, Kid.  You’re the best.

And again, I hand held a three stop reverse graduated ND filter to bring the sky into balance with the darker foreground.

If this technical stuff bores those of you who don’t work at photography as I do, please forgive me, but putting words to it helps me to clarify my process in the same way that writing ideas into an essay exposes truths and fallacies.

 

A day In The Saddle. May 3, 2012

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I got skunked in my efforts to show my photos to a chef/owner of a restaurant in Amherst this morning, and spent the hours ’till my next appointment driving around West-Central Massachusetts in a foggy drizzle.

I guess I could have just gone home, but the atmospherics of the day spoke to me, and I listened.  It’s a weakness of mine, you see.

So, here are a few shots from my rambles.

An orchard in the mists of South New Salem:

A lone maple along a farm road in Northfield MA:

…and the dazzling roots of a golden birch up in Savoy, positively glowing in the dim light of a drizzly May afternoon:

I hadn’t set out to photograph trees, but apparently that’s just what I did.

Those shots were, in order, from Elliot with two degrees of lens swing to get the apple trees all in focus; my 16-35mm L-series lens to capture the maple from my running boards; and Allie, my 24-105 zoom for the golden birch, with heavy polarization and a hand-held 3-stop ND filter.

More from this day after I get some sleep.

 

…And On The Way Home… April 12, 2012

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…I caught the low light of late afternoon on some Red Osier growing up in Windsor:

…along with the glowing yellow stems of pussy willows.  The colors on the drive-by made me turn around and put Elliot on the box to get you this view of the goings-on.

Thanks to Elliot and a reverse grad ND filter for that one.

Along The Westfield. April 11, 2012

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The Westfield river is an untamed Cerberus tumbling through the hills to our south, coursing through three different drainages before converging in Westfield, MA and dumping into the mighty Connecticut.  Its lower reaches traverse the entropic, post industrial landscape of Southern New England’s lowlands, but its three heads arise in the pristine highlands  to the northwest.

I had occasion to pass that way today, and got down into a narrow gorge on the Middle Branch.  It was poorly (and so not legally) posted, and a landscaper working at an adjacent property assured me that the landowner wouldn’t mind.  I needed to ask no further.

So I didn’t.

I got these shots by clambering over rocks in the river bed, employing the Safety Nazi skills I’d learned over years as an outdoor adventure professional with a perfect record (well, I did  use a band-aid once in fifteen years.)  There was a fair bit of leaping from one dry rock to the next, collapsing my kit and passing it ahead of me, or extending it and leaving it behind, propped where I could grab it after clambering up some step where I needed both hands to progress.  It was a logistical puzzle which I dug, loving every small triumph over the obstacles around me.

Packing in a tripod and range of lenses allowed me to look at my surroundings from multiple vantages, from zoom to macro.  I found the flat light of the overcast day to be uninspiring from a landscape point of view, so concentrated on the details, which were dramatic and compact.  A tripod let me take these long exposures deep in the gorge.

One of the cascades in the gorge:

I was more than satisfied with Allie’s depth of field here; the constant winds of the past two weeks had finally died, so long exposures were an option.  This shot required two graduated filters, one reversed and both hand-held for a two-and-a-half second exposure.

The small falls in this reach of the river were intimate and expressive, painting their quartzite boulders with life:

The steep narrows were deeply shadowed and ominous:

…until the sky brightened a bit for one last painting of light and color:

I had headed in this vague direction knowing that there was something worth photographing here, but hadn’t expected to encounter a local and get permission to go beyond the “posted” signs.  So this set of photos is a pleasant windfall from a day spent wandering through these hills where I live.

 

Low Tide, Down River. April 6, 2012

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So I got out through the swift current with hip boots, ski poles and a good deal of patience and concentration; after waiting for visual low water, I was still amazed at the power of what looked shallow from the road.

Once I was at the gravel bar, the Deerfield was glowing in the rising blush of the setting sun, its cobbles showing their serpentinite-green roots through the silvery, slithering water.

I set up low, glad to have the hip waders on as I knelt in the shallows and contorted myself to get a working view of my camera’s LCD screen at 10X.  That part is necessary to get the best out of Elliot; the interplay of tilt and focus and exposure, coupled with the complication of arranging hand-held graduated filters, requires a view of the process beyond what appears through the view-finder.

The results were predictably mixed, and most of my haul went directly into the Round File (that’s trash,  for those of you who remember waste baskets.)

Here’s what emerged as the keeper from this effort:

Courtesy of Elliot, with about six degrees of tilt, and a pair of stacked/staggered hand-held graduated filters for a total of six stops of cooling that sun.

Once again, my hat’s off to the right gear producing the desired results.

Well, that and a little elbow grease.

Earth Shadow, Four Treatments. January 15, 2012

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Sunrise/sunset photos depend to some extent on clouds and atmospheric interference for their emotional impact.  The best clouds are high sheets (cirrus clouds) with distinct patterns and textures; the sun often breaks below them as it sets (for instance,) its light traveling a maximum distance through the atmosphere before reaching our eyes, filtering out many of the shorter wavelengths and leaving a preponderance of red light to bounce between earth and clouds and give the view its glory.  Lower, thicker clouds such as cumulus are likely to show as dark blotches rimmed with golden light, which can also be nice, but that has a much more somber emotional feel.

The hardest skies to take to the photo-bank are the clear ones, where the landscape benefits from the warm, rich glow of that last “golden hour,” but the skies simply fade to the pale blue of a lost lover’s eyes.

That might be emotive to you, but is likely to underwhelm viewers who never knew her.

That is the perpetual bane of desert photographers, especially those of us who have to pay big bucks to get there, burn scant vacation time, and come home with sub-optimal shots for our efforts because we can’t hang around waiting for the infrequent cloud cover to creep in.  The cactus may be in bloom, but a boring sky yields a B+ photo at best.

So here’s what I do to salvage the heartbreak of beautiful, clear skies:

Get to the highest point you can, and turn around.   Look away from the setting sun.  Finding a nice foreground element in these conditions means that it will be warmly lit until the sun drops below the horizon, rather than being back-lit, which requires fancy filter work and substantial post-processing in Photoshop to recover the dark areas and get the balance right.

And behind your chosen subject, you’ll get to watch the blue of the sky deepen to a band of lovely warm light, pink or orange or magenta, and below that, a darker band of indigo and violet and midnight blue.

This is “Earth Shadow,” a term I first heard from my photo mentor Lizz Bartlett.  It’s literally the Earth’s shadow, your  shadow, creeping up the dome of the heavens as the sun “moves” in the opposite direction.  And the red band results from the light you’re seeing having passed through all of the air between you and the sunset, then most of the air between you and the opposite horizon, then all of the air traveling back to your eyes (or, hopefully, your lens!)

The total effect can be a satisfactory salvaging of an otherwise unsatisfactory shoot.

Here are four examples of Earth Shadow shots, all taken at a farm in a high meadow in Windsor, MA.  A few dark blobs (Cumulus turdis ) clung to the rim of the western horizon as the sun set, so I turned Eastward.*

[*Ed. – In fact, the little pansy couldn’t face into the stiff wind with the temps in the single digits, but don’t expect him to admit that…]

I found a pair of old, storm-damaged maples and, feeling no need to leave my vehicle*, shot these from the driver’s seat, hand-held at a too-large fraction of a second (thank Gawd  for Canon’s excellent image stabilization technology) and a relatively high ISO, like 2000.

[*Ed. – See, I told you! ]

The sun had actually left the foreground by this time, so there was indeed some post-processing done to these, but I hope they’ll still demonstrate my main point.

I’m calling this one, “Barn Hiding Behind Maple:”

The Earth Shadow hasn’t yet progressed to the indigo stage, but it will, and soon.

Here’s a fun one I titled, “Barn Arriving Too Late to Save a Damaged Tree:”

I thought that was funny.  Note the rising line of shadow beneath the rose band.

Here’s a shot of the second tree, titled simply, “Goodnight, Tree:”

I waved, but couldn’t pick myself out on the horizon.  Dang.

And finally, showing the full effect, “Goodnight, Barn:”

That was the last shot of the night; I rolled up the window and headed for home.

I hope that didn’t come off as a mediocre joke which takes all damned night to tell.  But you know, I try to frequent the websites of much better photographers than me, hoping to learn something.  And guess what?

They’re mostly stingy bastards. Excepting those writing “How-To” columns for photography magazines and for manufacturers of filters such as Singh-Ray, my favorite filters, they’ll say nice things to your face, but don’t expect any useful tips beyond, “Shoot lots.”

That’s not bad advice, but as I learn, I hope to do a bit more to “pay it forward.”

G’night.

Oh, and by the way, none of these shots have anything more than a circular polarizer affixed to the lens; the blowing snow and hand-held format didn’t really allow for it.