Friday, December 24, 2010


Here it is, the 24th already. The shopping is done, the cookies are baked, and I'm enjoying treasured time with family. Trouble is, we're spread out all over the United States and not able to be together for Christmas. Every time I open a Holiday greeting, I try to spend a moment thinking of the person who sent it. A college friend. A little sister. A new facebook friend. It's not about the shopping, the baking, the gifts. It's about the human connections. It's about warmth in the coldest of seasons. It's about the light of a new year.

Thank you for warming and lighting my life this year. I wish you the closeness of family and friends, the excitement of new beginnings, and maybe a moment of peace. Merry Christmas, happy Holidays, and a bright New Year.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Capturing Christmas Lights

Holiday photos take various forms. Since I live in a city, I have many opportunities to catch some great sparkle. Store windows, downtown streets, and glowing trees are all signs of the coming holiday. 

Doors and windows are all glitzed up, and offer opportunities to capture wreaths, swags, and lights.  When photographing them, I try to avoid shooting into other people's windows, because I know I wouldn't like to find a photographer on my doorstep! In this photo, I intentionally included a delivery tag - it says the gifts are on the way.  Sometimes you can capture reflections in the windows or even a door-knocker which shows some of the neighborhood.

There are many ways to capture holiday lights. The image on the left was shot on a dry night. The picture is almost monotone, with white lights silhouetted against a black sky.  The photo on the right was taken at dusk - my favorite time to shoot.The lighter sky gives a less-contrasty image, and I prefer the additional color and detail in this shot. Trouble is, dusk doesn't last for long.  I try to plan to shoot in the afternoon through dusk and into the night to get a variety of looks. Many cities leave their lights on all night, so I shoot them at sunrise, too.

Here's another dusk shot - Quincy Market all lit up. There was snow in the air, which picked up the light and made everything look beautiful. Light snow or mist creates magical effects in a picture. You have to be careful to keep the camera dry, and sometimes I feel like a circus act juggling tripod, camera, umbrella, and wiping cloth. A lens hood helps keep the glass dry. I carry extra plastic bags and absorbent cloths to deal with the moisture.

I find that my camera does a very good job of metering holiday lights. Sometimes I add +1ev of light to the recommended exposure, but the camera gets it close enough that I can do any touch-up easily in Adobe Lightroom.

Where do I look for Christmas lights? Public parks like Boston Common; commercial areas like Quincy Market and the Prudential Center; tourist attractions like Strawberry Banke. The picture above is from Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. Of course, the Newport mansions also shine in December. Look below for a list of holiday events in New England.

Lights are the Christmas bling. But Christmas is not all bling, and there are many opportunities for pictures of  Christmas unplugged. Country stores are decorated, as are lighthouses, covered bridges, museums, houses, and inns. Restaurants also have unusual displays.

Even the tiniest of towns use lights to decorate. This is a town bandstand in Maine. They put up icicle lights and a few wreaths and create magic. I like this image because the traditional homes behind the bandstand look like a village and are warmed with light, too. Yet there's nothing outrageous here, just a few lights and a holiday tradition.

A sampling of Christmas events:

Nantucket Noel
Marblehead, MA Christmas Walk
Festival of Lights – Wickford, RI
Holiday Light Parade - Presque Isle, ME
Christmas in Salem, MA House Tours
Christmas By The Sea - Camden, ME
Village Holidays - Bar Harbor, ME
Bowen's Wharf Christmas Tree Lighting - Newport, RI
Sparkle Weekend - Freeport, ME
Main Street Stockbridge at Christmas, MA 
Holiday Tree Lighting and Illuminated Parade – Portsmouth, NH
Harbor Lights Festival - Boothbay, ME
Festival of Lights - York, ME
New London, CT Celebration of Lights and Song Around the World
Woodstock, VT Wassail Weekend
Newburyport, MA Holiday House tour 

If you've missed the actual tree-lighting celebration, don't worry. Decorations will be up, lights will be lit, and the throngs will have gone home long after the day of the actual event. It's much easier to get good pictures without a crowd.

Holiday Events websites:

Visit New England - there are tabs for the states and a searchable list of upcoming events.

Internet searches:

A simple internet search like "NH Christmas Events" will yield a long list of holiday activities. Most of them happen during the first two weekends of December, so you'll need to prioritize.

Look for events in the major cities near you. There's plenty in Boston to keep me busy, and also great events in Springfield, Portland, and Newport.

Within the cities, search for large malls and tourist attractions. In Boston, that would be Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Prudential Center, Boston Common, and even some of the neighborhoods like Beacon Hill. 

Outside the city, many towns have holiday celebrations like the Marblehead Christmas Walk, Chatham Christmas Stroll, or the Scituate North Pole Express.

And don't overlook your own town. Many towns decorate their village greens, and individual businesses and homes may dress up for the holidays. A simple bandstand in fresh snow creates a warm holiday feeling.

Christmas tree farms, craft fairs, and railroad stations may offer interesting holiday activies and great setups for holiday photos.

You can see my photos and buy prints at my online gallery. Check out the Holiday cards!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Where in Maine 12/2010

Have you opened the December issue of Down East, the Magazine of Maine yet? I've got a double-page picture on pages 6-7. It's the old tavern in... whoops, I almost told the secret! It's this month's "Where in Maine", and you're supposed to guess where it is. Looks great, eh?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Autumn in the rear view mirror

Just finished editing my autumn work. It's 8:30 at night, there's Christmas music on TV, and I'm still in my jammies. But the big edit is done. Here are my favorites. Enjoy!

2010 Falls Best - Images by Susan Cole Kelly

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Autumn in Boston Public Garden

I love living in Boston. It's odd, because I'm not very social, don't hang around the theater or ballet, don't even go out to eat much. But I still love Boston. Visually, it's just wonderful to be able to wander around the parks - Boston Common, the Public Garden, the Charles River Esplanade to name a few. From cherry blossoms in April to late foliage in November, there's always color. Follow the history on the Freedom Trail. Admire beautiful architecture from Trinity Church in Copley Square to the new Institute of Contemporary Art on the waterfront. Try Quincy Market for people-watching.   Or stroll by Back Bay brownstones and shi-shi shops on Newbury Street. Eat Italian in the North End or Asian in Chinatown or Yankee at Durgin Park. Watch the harbor traffic along the waterfront.

You get it. It's the sheer diversity of the place that I love. There's always something interesting to shoot. And, while I love nature photography, I really love living in the middle of all this diversity and being able to access so much of New England's natural beauty so easily. I dream of living on a marsh somewhere, but one of the criteria would be easy access to Boston, so why move?

This morning I arrived at the Public Garden before sunrise. True, the sun doesn't break the horizon until 6:30,  but it's still satisfying to be up early. The park in front of my house is getting bare, so I wanted to check on the Garden. There, the many types of trees bloom and fall at different times, so I was sure there would still be color. Yes! European Beech holds on to its leaves late, as do Norway Maple, American Sweetgum, and the oaks. Even the Dawn Redwoods were golden. Plenty of color, even in this tough year.

I shot for a while and left before I had to feed a parking meter, although I think I could have wandered around for another hour or so. A quick stop at one of my favorite grocery stores and I was home in time for breakfast. So far, a good day.

Friday, November 12, 2010

November Blues

It hits me suddenly. I'm scurrying around, trying to get pictures of the last golden leaves before they all fall and the world is bare. Suddenly, it hits me: the world IS bare, autumn IS over, and I'm spinning my wheels. I look at the last few days of pictures and realize that it's time to stop shooting foliage, because the foliage is gone.

I find myself catapulted through the five stages of grief. Denial is long past, I've been shooting brown grass for weeks. Anger has come and gone, usually directed at myself for not producing the same fabulous images I did in October. And I have bargained - If I just drive a little further, maybe It will last longer. Depression? Ah yes, that's usually the point when I wake up and notice that all is not well. I sleep through the alarm, close the blinds, and take two naps a day. I spend my time looking at all the pictures that aren't processed yet and mourning autumn's passing. The TV runs constantly, I eat carbs, I sit all day. So pathetic.

Now that I know where I am, there's only one way to go - acceptance!  Well, I'm having a problem with that one. I'll be happy when it snows, looking forward to picturing Christmas decorations and winter scenes. But November itself is just too cruel. Stick season. Gray and brown and dead. Time to hibernate.

Or maybe not. There are always seascapes.  And sunsets. And if, one of these frosty mornings, I happen to find ice on a pond or frost on a branch,  I will have to take a picture or ten.

Wednesday, with a storm offshore, the coastal waters were all churning with waves. I went to Scituate Light, on Boston's South Shore.  Couldn't find a vantage point to get the really big waves with the lighthouse, but there was a sliver of clearing in the western sky, so I stayed until dark. Beautiful sunset over the harbor. Beautiful light on the whitecaps. I could get used to this. And the really good news is that I don't need to get up at 3:30 or work until 9:00 to get sunrise and sunset shots!

Thursday morning I was up before dawn, aiming for a beach sunrise. Looked good from my balcony. By the time I got to the beach, clouds were piled up in the east.  I took a few pre-dawn photos and decided to take a walk. The sun never did break through the clouds but way up above, there was some good color. I had my 24-105mm lens with me, not wide enough to catch the sky plus the beach. But the clouds were bright enough to reflect in the water, and I loved the way it looked. So I shot some images, hand-held. Nice. I can accept this.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A sliver of light and a nice guy

When I woke up this morning, there was a huge cloud over my house but a big clear space in the East. Now, I know that weather usually moves from West to East, but I ignored this knowledge as the weatherman was saying something about clearing. So I made breakfast, got ready, and arrived on the waterfront of Boston before sunrise.

A glance at the sky told me I'd need to wait a while, because a stripe of cloud was clinging to the horizon. So I shot a few harbor scenes and then settled down in a spot with a view of the Custom House tower and some brightly-colored black locust trees. Every few minutes I peered over to see what was happening in the sky. The clouds were closing in on the bright strip. If the sun did come up over the cloud bank, it would shine for only a few moments. 

Seven o'clock. Seven-ten. Seven-fifteen. The city was coming to life around me. Dogs and their walkers passed, traffic picked up on the nearby street, and I waited. The rim of the clouds was glowing. Any minute. And then, two pickup trucks drove into the park. One passed. One parked right in front of me. I made a gesture, but not the one you might be thinking of. The two-hands-halfway-up, hey-whaddaya-doin-guy gesture. The driver made a funny face and drove ahead,  just as the alpenglow painted the side of the tower.

For three minutes I shot. Bracketing, using three different filters, trying to take a still picture as the wind made the branches sway. The light was gorgeous. It was one of those scenes that has you breathing heavy. Then, as fast as it had started, the sun disappeared behind the top cloud, and my sliver of light - and time - was gone. I looked around for the driver who had moved for me.  Couldn't see him. Maybe he had gone for coffee, or to check out his work site. It would have been nice to thank him.

The park is only a block from Quincy Market, so I walked over to see if there was any foliage. Yes! More black locusts, and the bee lights were on, too. It looked a bit like Christmas in October. So I took a few shots there.
It was 7:40, only twenty minutes until the parking meters start. It's really great being able to park free to shoot mornings in Boston, but the 8:00 deadline makes me feel like Cinderella rushing to her pumpkin-coach.

As I neared my car, I saw the guy. I showed him on the back of my camera, the picture he enabled me to get. Thank you, driver-guy, it's a really beautiful shot. Thank you!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Robinson Farm

Just a quick update... My farm has been found! It's the Robinson Farm, in Woodstock.

Thanks so much to Judy Lombardi, sleuth extraordinaire! And to Google Street View so I could see what she was showing me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The last foliage in Vermont

I went to Hartland Lake near Woodstock, VT, this morning, hoping for a little fog on the water, and maybe some red light at sunrise, and maybe a few pink clouds from the approaching storm. It looked good on the map. The lake stretches from west to east, surrounded by hills, and I hoped the warm sunlight would rake the trees.

I guess they only grant one wish at a time, and mine was for fog. I never saw the lake. After trudging out to the dam and back, I shot some pine trees, some milkweed, and a misty  marsh.

Then I drove up Clay Hill Road toward Woodstock and found this row of maple saplings. They made a surreal sight, fading into nothing. I included the road and a mailbox to give them some context.

In Woodstock I realized that, while the lake was fogged in, the rest of the world was sunny. The village looked great, and I headed up to Cloudland Road to catch the last foliage shots on the farms there. For a while I played leapfrog with three other photographers. It's Thursday, and I could hear the line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: "Who ARE these guys?"  And why don't they have day jobs? Yesterday someone told me that there were 40 photographers at the Jenne Farm last Sunday, so I was ok with only three.

There's a storm coming in tonight, a whopper. The Weather Channel says it will bring down all the foliage. The Vermont weatherguy said the same thing. Whoosh, most of New England will be bare. So these may be the last images I'll shoot in Vermont or New Hampshire.  There's still hope for Massachusetts.


I have a problem. There's a barn, it's a beauty. My caption says it's in Pomfret, VT but I can't find it. I think I've eliminated about half the roads in Pomfret. But I haven't eliminated the possibility that the barn is in Barnard or Sharon or Timbuktu. Please let me know if you see it anywhere.

The red barn above is next to this big white house. If I remember right, the barn is recessed down the driveway when you're driving in one direction, but really stands out (like the picture) in the other direction.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Jackman and Route 201 in Maine

One of these days, I'll be in this spot near Jackman, Maine, at sunrise and the mountain will be radiating red alpenglow and the lakes will be reflecting it, and the foliage will be peak and the sky will be neon and.... Well, I was there, but the sun didn't show up even though the weatherman assured me it would. He tricked me into getting up at 3:30 and driving 75 minutes to get my fantasy image, and all I got was this!!! I'll work on it some more. But it will never match that imaginary sunrise! Maybe I'll get it next year.

Little red fox wants a treat
In my travels, I did see a few critters, including this rest-area fox who wanted to share my hard-boiled egg. Most of the wildlife was actually wild, but this guy seemed pretty comfortable begging for food - I wonder if he'll be able to survive the winter?

Moose hiding behind a twig
I also saw 6 moose between Baxter State Park and Jackman, plus several loons, two eagles, and a ruffed grouse. The wildlife is really out! Of course, it WAS the wilderness. Route 201 is the Old Canada Highway, running from Jackman south to Skowhegan, Maine. Much of it follows the Kennebec River and all of it is scenic. Just don't expect too many strip malls. The area is full of sporting camps, fishing cabins, and Maine Guide services. I try to visit at least once a year.

The day was cloudy, with wind and heavy rain predicted for afternoon. Home was calling. As I traveled south by the Kennebec River, I stopped to photograph river scenes, but the white sky reflected in the water and made everything drab. I composed this shot to eliminate the sky. Notice how bright the color is, even though much of the peak foliage blew away in the last storm. There are still green leaves here, and they will develop color as the season progresses.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Moonlight at Pemaquid

I've been chasing storm waves from hurricane Igor for four days. Friday was too early, but on Monday the surf warnings were up along the Maine coast. I had already hit Schoodic Point and gotten wave pictures, but I really wanted something special. So I decided to drive three hours down to Bristol to get storm waves with Pemaquid Point Light.

You've seen the lighthouse a zillion times. The rocks surrounding it are legendary, with striations forming leading lines right up to the tower. I've shot it a zillion times. White tower, red outbuildings, gray striped rocks, blue sky. I have it at sunset and sunrise (morning is better). Trouble is, everyone else has it too.

I had previsualized Pemaquid in sunset light, with monster tsunami waves overtopping the rocks and sparkling in the alpenglow. What an imagination! Trouble is, to get the waves with the lighthouse, you have to be down in the rocks, a very dangerous place. If I were young and agile, I'd be there. but I've experienced rogue waves which come out of nowhere and crash 100 feet further upshore than any previous wave. Luckily, I just got soaked. But a woman had been swept out to sea that morning, so I wasn't going down there.

I asked the ranger if there were other vantage points which gave a good view of the surf, and she directed me to the loop road. The road overlooks a small cove topped by the light station. So I wandered around the tower shooting the standard views for a while, then headed down to the loop road just before sunset.

The view was uninspiring, and I almost returned to the park. But something told me that this place might be different later.

I stayed on the loop road, had a snack, called home, and watched the sun sink below the horizon of neighborhood homes and backyard trees. The whole coast was washed with waves turning gold in the late light. Neighbors walked down to the rocks with wine and cheese. NPR was playing Led Zeppelin clips and the waves were crashing and life was feeling very good. 

The lighthouse looks so much better from the rocks, but this quickly became more about the light and the water than the lighthouse itself. And the emotional experience, which was topping the photographic experience so far.

The sky turned pink, and the waves reflected the color. My exposures were getting pretty slow. I alternated between shallow depth-of-field and high ISO to get fast exposures, and large depth-of-field with low ISO to get slow exposures and misty looking waves. There was no wind, no traffic, just me and the cove.

Then the magic happened. I zoomed out and realized that there was more to this scene than the mid-range composition I had been focusing on. On the right, the full moon was up and glistening on the water. On the horizon was Monhegan Island, with another lighthouse. I wish you could see this blown up really large. But it's not bad here. A lighthouse, and moonlight, and waves. Worth the three-hour drive home. I feel serene just looking at it now.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Nubble Light in Blue

Last Friday, I had plans to do Nubble Light at sunrise with storm waves from hurricane Igor. But I didn't get up at 3:00, so by the time I got to the lighthouse the sun had risen behind a thick cover of clouds.  It was gray, really gray. Not only that, but the storm waves hadn't shown up yet. Yuk!

So I added a 1.8 neutral density filter to my lens. This made everything dark, so my exposures would be slow. I also set my aperture at f22 and my ISO at 100. The goal was to make a very slow exposure, so the waves that did exist would have that silky, dreamy look. I set the exposure value (EV) to -1.0 to make it look like night. The shutter speed was now 15 seconds - long enough for silky water and then some.

When I loaded the images onto the computer, I was still disappointed with them. Slow shutter, yes, but it would have been so much better if I had shot it before sunrise on this cloudy day.  Why? Because pre-sunrise light is a very beautiful saphire blue. After dawn, the color was simply drab.

The ORIGINAL image

The fix was an old trick from film days.  Mismatched white balance! Years ago, we would use tungsten-balanced film (for regular interior lights) and underexposure to give a nighttime appearance to daytime pictures. It doesn't work on everything, but on this picture, already a slow exposure, it might be just fine. So I set the white balance in Adobe Lightroom to Tungsten, fine-tuned the colors, and came up with the first image on this page.

Of course, I didn't need Lightroom to change the white balance. I could have used the camera to shoot it with a tungsten or fluorescent setting. But it's warm and dry here, and I can play at my leisure. I've tried this image in Black & White, Sepia, Cyanotype, and other effects in Lightroom.  There are lots of ways to make it look better.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Surf at Schoodic

I've been playing with waves all weekend. Hurricane Earl came and went, and Saturday the waves were high. There's no place better than Acadia for surf, and I do have some pictures of waves breaking 50 feet in the air with a crowd of onlookers. But this morning the ocean was back to normal, and we hit Schoodic Point again at sunrise. The images are in process, but I just had to stop for this pretty little thing. Nothing grand, nothing spectacular, just blue water with a bit of motion-blur and some sharp rocks. Such fun to play!

On the way out, we passed a small pond with three great blue herons. They were spread out so much that the pictures showing all three are not especially attractive. But individually, they made some lovely images. They weren't very worried about us, and after a few minutes of shooting from the car, I moved slowly across the road toward them. Breakfast was more interesting than two slow humans and they fished and posed for quite a while.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hurricane Skies

The sky has been red for three mornings, and now hurricane Earl is imminent. The storm seems to be fizzling out after all the hype on the weather channel, but we saw its impact this morning - on the sunrise. This is Schoodic Point in Acadia National Park, ME.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Ipswich, Essex and a Crane Beach Sunrise

A morning on the North Shore of Massachusetts. A Crane Beach sunrise. Ipswich marshes. Essex village. It's all within an hour of my Boston home. At this time of year, I can leave the house at 4:30 and get there in time for pre-sunrise color.

Sunrise light on sand ripples at Crane Beach

Crane Beach dawn
Sunrise sky


As well as Crane Beach, Ipswich has some of the most beautiful marshland around. It's actually part of the Great Marsh, which stretches from Gloucester, MA to Hampton, NH. Much of the marsh is natural; some is farmed for salt hay. It includes native cordgrass and invasive phragmites, as well as many other species. This huge wetland provides a home for many birds and animals as well as a welcomed respite for migrators.

Colorful marsh sedges waving in the wind

Cord grass in the Great Marsh
Maplewood farm preserve in Ipswich


The nearby town of Essex is a center for antiquing, and hosts the Essex Shipbilding Museum. If you want to explore the Essex River, kayak rentals are available. It's also the home of Woodman's, the inventor of the fried clam.

Essex Shipbuilding Museum, Essex
White Elephant antiques, Essex
Essex Shipbuilding Museum