Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wet Meadow in the Berkshires

Sometimes I get impatient with the Berkshires. A beautiful area, and I love the mountains, but the cultural features seem inaccessible. For a photographer, at least. The mansions and cultural venues are hidden away out of sight, and you can get in legal trouble for publishing photos of them. Sometimes I go to the Berkshires with a list of shots, and come home feeling like I didn't get what I came for.

This week I found myself missing the country. Needed to walk in grass and see some wildflowers. There are several wet meadows in the Berkshires, and this one is usually good around August 1st. It's in Tyringham, in a narrow valley that catches the sunlight late and holds the ground fog when everything else is dry. It has become one of my favorite places. The Hop Brook Wildlife Management Area. I've seen deer and many bunnies, and this week it was full of songbirds. A very nice way to start the morning.

Actually, the Berkshires have a good variety of natural subjects - running rivers, old-growth forests, glacial lakes, meadows and marshes, and even a limestone cobble that sprouts wildflowers and ferns in spring. There are state parks that are wild. Great places for a kayak. And if you ride a bike, there are roads by farms and pastures and country homes. There are quaint villages and ice cream stands and swimming holes to explore.

Me? I keep coming back to Hop Brook.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A quick trip to Nantucket

I opened my email Wednesday night and found a customer request for pictures of Nantucket. I have Nantucket, but the pictures are old film scans, and I know I can do better. Seems I never get over there - everything on the island is so expensive that I just can't break even going for a few days and shooting for stock.

This is a good customer, and I do pretty well with them. I want to be a dependable source of images. So I set a challenge for myself - could I do it in a day trip? I made a reservation for the ferry, packed my breakfast, and set the alarm. Thursday sunrise found me on Cape Cod with time to spare. I napped on the ferry and arrived on Nantucket at 9:00, ready to go.

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Nantucket Town has tourist facilities, shopping, museums, historic houses and cobblestoned streets. There are B&Bs, restaurants, bike shops, clothing stores, art galleries and ice cream shops, all quaint as can be. And not a chain store in sight.
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I can't walk like I used to, so I broke up the walking part of the trip by taking the shuttle bus to the extreme ends of the island - Madaket in the morning and Sconset after lunch. Both destinations have gorgeous beaches, and Sconset is a little village with wonderful pocket gardens and adorable grey-shingled cottages.
The island is laced with bike paths which add to the serene atmosphere.

By 6:00 pm, I had run out of steam, so I took the early ferry, had a quick (and cheap) burger, and drove home to feed the kitties. It took a couple of days to edit the photos, and a couple of days to rest the photographer, but now I'm ready to go again. A good selection of images is waiting for the customer and I have the satisfaction of knowing I did a good day's work. And Nantucket is such a beautiful place, it's always a pleasure to visit.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A foggy day in Scituate

The weather has been humid lately and mornings have been foggy. Foggy photos can be charming, but fog and mist present challenges that need to be dealt with. Cameras are calibrated to make good exposures in average conditions. "Average" is the tone of summer grass and blue sky, paved streets, and brick walls. When a camera encounters a scene that's supposed to be very light or very dark, it mistakenly tries to make the exposure average.

You've seen photos with gray fog. Fog is not gray! When you step outside on a foggy morning, the sky is white. Yet the camera makes everything look gray. This is one situation where the photographer needs to use camera settings to override the tendency to make everything average.


The picture on the left is underexposed, with a gray sky and dark foreground. That is not what I saw as I approached this lighthouse. Fog is white, not gray! My camera has an EV control, which I set at +1 or +1.5. My compact camera has a "Snow" setting which lightens exposures. Yes, snow and fog scenes have the same exposure problem.

Now that the exposure is set right, the next problem is that everything is white and not very interesting. The way I work with this is to put something in the foreground that is dark or bright. In foggy situations, the fog has an incremental effect. Distant objects are lighter than close objects. Here the driftwood log adds some foreground interest and balances all that white in the sky.

The really great thing about morning ground fog is that it clears away, usually by 9:00. I took a walk, made some pictures of beach houses in the (gorgeous) even light, and returned to the lighthouse as the fog lifted. At this point, it becomes apparent that fog is just a cloud on the ground. The sun warms it and it rises, creating interesting effects as it clears out. Including blue sky and foreground elements makes pictures of clearing fog interesting and unique. If you're lucky enough to see this at sunrise or sunset, you can get spectacular lighting and color and God-rays. I wasn't that lucky this week, but I'll keep on trying!

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I finished off these images in Adobe Lightroom, my favorite post-processing software. One of the pictures needed more help because the lighthouse was leaning toward the center. I fixed the perspective distortion in Photoshop and, while I was diddling, I used the HDR-tone adjustment to bring out the details. How did I do? Does it look natural? Which one is it?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Kerry House - tone-mapped

This is the Beacon Hill home of Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. It is a beautiful building in a beautiful neighborhood. Yet, I have passed it by at least a dozen times. Its formal majesty is not inviting to me. The street is narrow, so if I use a wide-angle lens the sides of the building lean in to the middle, and I've just never connected with it. Yesterday as I passed, I decided to try again. Even though it was a sunny day, the light was even. There were lights at the door and reflections in the windows. The mid-summer foliage was lovely against the red of the brick. Might as well give it a try.

Of course, Photoshop can straighten out those leaning buildings. And Lightroom can light up the shadows a bit and crop an unfortunate bit of curb. At what point do you stop diddling with an image? I couldn't resist. I made a couple of copies and brought them into HDR-Pro. I had already saturated the image, so it didn't take much diddling. It just popped. I could get used to this really fast.

I didn't want it to be too garish, but I really like the color and the detail that HDR picks up. Of course, this isn't real HDR. You need three separate exposures for that, not one image used three times. Nevertheless, I could spend a lot of time playing with this stuff. And publish it under another name!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Beacon Hill Reflections

Yesterday I wrote that I always use a polarizing filter. Yup, always. That made me think - would the world come to an end if I let in a stray reflection or two? So this morning I went out in search of reflections - not to a pond, nor a harbor, but to Beacon Hill, in Boston. Many of the windows and doors reflect buildings across the street. Sometimes it's possible to capture the reflection of a gaslight or a church steeple. But I wanted to push it. There's on-street parking on the Hill, and I realized that the cars could be used as mirrors. This is my favorite. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Marblehead Morning

This morning I was hoping for fog, but I got heavy haze instead. I think it worked out ok. A pink sunrise was followed by over two hours of soft, golden light which made it really easy to get pictures with low contrast, saturated color, great reflections. A very busy shooting day, over by 8:00.

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Marblehead is a wonderful town to photograph. It has a very scenic harbor with several vantage points; a 17th-century historical district; a lighthouse; an Audubon preserve, several active yacht clubs; interesting shops and restaurants; and a few lobster shacks. There's more, I just haven't discovered it all yet.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Revere Beach Bandstand

Boston is having a heat wave, and I'm planning to stay in and catch up with some of the things-to-do list. But before sequestering myself, I thought I'd run out before sunrise and get some images of Revere Beach.

I've been thinking of this project for some time - the beach is 15 minutes from my house, easily accessible, and has some interesting architecture and spectacular views of the sunrise.

Actually, there are several beaches near Boston which are maintained by the MA Department of Conservation. They were tourist magnets at the turn of the 20th century, fell into disrepair and disuse at the time that Boston Harbor became so polluted, and are enjoying come-backs now. It would make an interesting magazine article.

Even if the photo essay doesn't get published, I will enjoy shooting it, and that's always a good thing. So here's the shot list:
  • Revere Beach, with its Victorian bandstand & shelters
  • Carson Beach or Castle Island, in Boston's core
  • Nantasket Beach and Paragon Park
  • Lynn, with its restored bath houses or Nahant, on a narrow spit in the ocean
  • Lovells Island, in Boston Harbor. If too ratty, Winthrop
The challenge will be making all the beaches look different. Emphasizing the unique features of each, not only geographical and visual, but capturing a sense of place, of community. So I can't just buzz over to each beach at sunrise.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Redcoats are coming!

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People pictures. I don't know why I even try. They always turn out terrible. Every time I get a human in the viewfinder, I forget everything I know about lighting, composition, and timing. No eye-contact, no connection. Fortunately, Redcoats on parade work any way you can get them. The Redcoats are coming! Huzzah!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Back in Boston

Moving from Maine to Boston is always jarring. You trade the noise of crickets for the noise of airplanes. The smell of seaweed for the smell of traffic. YUK! But Boston is a such beautiful city. I can shoot both sunrise and sunset in several locations with water in the foreground. Boats and skylines and reflections. Boston Harbor. The Charles River. Such a gorgeous city.

I've been shooting sunrise and sunset for the last week. At this time of the year, that's a little tough, so I spend the middle of the day on the computer and schedule a nap each afternoon. Mid-day light usually doesn't work in the city, because the tall buildings cast shadows that make too much contrast for traditional photography. Today I'll make an exception. Redcoats and militiamen will invade Boston, with fife-and-drummers wandering the streets. Who could resist?