The Early Springtime Itch

Water rushing over rocks in stream
It’s been a long, hard, cold winter. So cold in fact, that it tends to prevent one from going out to photograph the beauty of all the snow that we have put up with. But now winter is over (sort of), and spring is on the way… or at least the calendar says it is. And so Sunday’s warm temps made me want to go outside on a photo excursion, even though I was pretty sure there wouldn’t yet be much of what I like to photograph. So let’s call it a reconnaissance mission and leave it at that. I would go see how the natural world was progressing into spring, and just in case, I would bring my camera.

A pair of Ring-necked ducks

A mated pair of Ring-necked ducks

My first stop was more of a birdwatching exercise than photographic. There was an uncommon duck being seen on the Androscoggin River along the Riverwalk in Auburn, so that’s where I headed; in search of the female Long-tailed Duck. The Long-tail is common in Maine in the winter, but only on the coast, not on inland rivers. So I had hoped to get some closer photos of it than I usually have the chance to. Long story short I didn’t find it. However, I was lucky enough to find a pair of Ring-necked Ducks; perhaps more photogenic than the Long-tail. The Ring-neck is common on Maine lakes and ponds, but only during spring and fall migration, so it was nice to find this pair basically in my own back yard.
This is not meant to be a lesson in birding, but I thought it would be nice to let you know that when it comes to ducks, we do have more than the ubiquitous Mallard here in L/A.

My next stop was to one of my favorite local sites for photos; Bobbin Mill Brook on North River Road. I wanted to see how the snow was receding to open up the stream. The walk into the woods, along an obvious deer trail, was not very easy. The snow was still a foot or so deep, and soft, so my feet kept sinking in under the weight of my fully loaded gear bag. The stream was partially open and running in the middle. But most of the rocks that create the interesting cascades were still under a good cover of ice and snow. I had to search hard to find any interesting compositions. The deep snow also made it difficult to set a tripod, which is necessary to make interesting moving water images.  I shot what I could, but I didn’t go far; it just wasn’t worth it.
rock and pine cone on snowHowever, the snow in the woods was littered with pine cones that had fallen during the winter. These had some photographic potential. After a little searching, I found this cone next to a partially exposed rock. It was partly in the sun, which made the composition a little more interesting; although the exposure was tricky, trying to get the snow a clean white without blowing the highlights. This made for a good exercise to brush up on my photography skill.


After I left the stream, I headed up the road to some farm fields. I was looking more for birds here than for photo subjects. I thought there was a good possibility that there might be some migrating geese looking for left-over kernels  in the corn fields. I didn’t really expect to find anything photogenic. But that’s where I was wrong. Sometimes the most captivating images happen when I least expect them, and that often happens to me with the moon. Sometimes I go out seeking moon scenes, and sometimes they just happen. And that’s how it was with this last image. It was a matter of being at the right place at the right time. The moon was out early, and still fairly low in the sky. By itself it wouldn’t hold much photographic interest. But when I looked up at this one specific tree (looking for birds), the moon was hanging just off to the side of the branches. I had to work fast before it got much higher in the sky, changing to my 500mm lens to get the most magnification. After finding just the right position and taking a couple of test shots (God bless digital), I made this image.
So although I didn’t have the most rewarding photo outing, it felt good to get out  with my camera again, knowing I’ll be ready when Mother Nature is.

Moon rising above tree in blue afternoon sky


Light is Everything

dappled lighting on bearded iris

Late day dappled light on this iris brings out details that wouldn’t be possible in full sunlight

The word photography means “to write with light”. And indeed, every photograph is ‘written with light’. That’s a given. but how do we use the light that we have to our best advantage when it comes to making a compelling photograph? Two answers come to mind; quality of light, and time of light. And actually those two qualities are somewhat related. Ideally, the best time for light  photographically are the “golden hours”, just after sunrise and just before sunset. At these times the light has a warm quality that bathes everything in a warm color that is pleasing to the eye, especially in a photograph. But as for quality of light, in my opinion there are many other times besides these golden hours that can produce eye-catching photos. Late day is one of those times, when the sun is low enough in the sky to create interesting shadows, or to produce a back-light that causes translucent objects to light up and glow. And if you are in the woods, even a mid day sun can have an interesting effect on the ground as it weaves through the leaves overhead, causing patches of light and shadow on the forest floor.

In the image above, we have a very common subject; a bearded iris. If this photo were taken in the middle of the day, in full sunlight, there would be some very harsh shadows and burnt out highlights. In other words, it would be a very unappealing photo. But this particular photo was taken around 5:30 in the afternoon. The sun was getting low in the sky. It was off to the right and below the tree line, so the light that was hitting the flower was dappled by the leaves. This created a very even and pleasing light that made the petals and stamens come to life amid the very subdued shadows. In fact, between the trees and the passing clouds, I had to wait for the right light on the flower. But the final image was worth the wait.

bleeding heart flower macro

close-up image of a bleeding heart in subdued lighting

In this image of a Bleeding Heart flower, the lighting situation is pretty much the same, but it illustrates a different point. The light was again dappled through the leaves, but here it was hitting only the flower. The background was in shade, causing it to go dark in the photo, which makes the flower stand out. Also, an f-stop  (f-8) was used that would render the background blurry with no detail, further hilighting the main subject. (note; all of these images were shot with a 105mm macro lens)








backlight on coral bell leaf

backlight on coral bell leaf

This last image illustrates one of my favorite kinds of light; backlighting. Backlight can only be achieved when the sun is low in the sky, and only at very certain angles to the subject. But when it is right, it is magical. First, backlighting can transform a normally ‘nice’ subject into a thing of beauty. This works best with objects that are semi-translucent, like leaves and flower petals. When a low angle light comes through these objects, they almost turn into stained glass. And secondly, if there  is some fine detail around the edges, like fine hairs, they tend to glow in a way that you wouldn’t see otherwise. This photo shows off both of these qualities.

So the next time you are out there late in the day, look around for some of these lighting situations. Start with your own back yard. You may see things you never saw before, and it will change the way you look at photographing everyday objects.

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Back to the woods

Red Trillium, aka "Stinking Benjamin" in bloom

So here we are, back into the woods for the second week of springtime woodland images. As you may recall from my last post, the Trilliums were just in bud. Now they are in full bloom. They’ll probably last only about another week. So if you want to photograph them you best get out there now. As with any flower, you always want to photograph them at the peak of their perfection… ideally just after they have opened, in order to catch them without any of the flaws that come with age.
Trilliums can be hard to photograph. They are only about a foot high, which in itself isn’t all that bad. But the flowers hang down, facing the ground. In order to get this shot I had to take the camera off the tripod (something I don’t like to do for macros) and hand-hold it braced on the tripod leg for stability while laying on the wet ground. Being on the forest floor where there isn’t much light, I had to pump up the ISO and decrease my aperture in order to get a fast enough shutter speed for a hand-held shot. Sometimes it takes a few shots to get a good one, but it’s worth it.

young fern sproutsSince last week, the biggest change I saw in the woods, other than the Trilliums being in full bloom, is the emergence of every sort of fern. Some are just sprouting, while others are almost a foot tall; but they are all for the most part still in the ‘fiddlehead’ stage with the heads still curled up to some extent.

One tip for photographing ferns and other vegetation in the woods is to look for plants with a limited shaft of light falling on the, while the surroundings , especially the background, is in shadow. This will make the main subject really pop.young fern in sunlight










Here’s another image that required removing the camera from the tripod. This is known as Bellwort, aka “Wild Oats”. This was the only one I saw in bloom, but they were all over the place. They will likely be in full bloom next weekend. The flower itself is only about 3/4 to 1″ long, so it required that I get really close to get this shot. It, as well as most of these images, was shot with a dedicated 105mm macro lens. You simply can’t get this close to a subject this small with a “macro” zoom lens
bellwort, wild oats
This is another photo that definitely required a macro lens. The largest cap in the group of mushrooms is about 1/2 inch at most. This little cluster was growing on the side of an old tree stump. The time to find mushrooms in the woods is commonly in the fall, so I was lucky to come across these.small mushrooms on stump
This last photo shows last year’s fruit of the Partridge Berry. This plant is very small and creeps along the ground. The leaves are only about an inch long at most.  It is very plentiful, but most of the berries are gone at this point. I’ll give you one guess where the name comes from.partridge berryNext weekend some of theses flowers will be gone, some will be in their glory, and others will just be starting to open. Combine this will all the other wonderful things that will be happening in the wood and you’ll definitely want to get out there with your camera. If you don’t live next to any woods, Thorncrag is a wonderful place to search. But wherever you go, be mindful of where you step. you don’t want to destroy some emerging beauty for the sake of a photograph.

Just a reminder. all images seen here are available for purchase or licensing.

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Morning on the Androscoggin River

Winter morning sunrise on the Androscoggin River

Winter morning sunrise on the Androscoggin River

I hadn’t been out on a photo expedition in a while, so last weekend I decided it would be good to go out for some morning shooting.  We had had some warm temps with freezing rain, and the weatherman said the following morning would be dry but foggy. Fog in the morning can lead to some interesting photos, so I decided to head out for a sunrise photo shoot on Sunday morning.

Well, I woke up about 15 minutes before my 6:30am alarm. I got up and looked out the window to see what the conditions were. To my surprise the eastern sky was not only showing a clear dark blue, but not a hint of fog was to be seen. So even though a foggy sunrise was not going to happen,  there was certainly the possibility of a colorful sunrise… So I got dressed and headed out.

My first challenge was to find a location that would make the best of a sunrise image. I was looking for a location that looked east to view the rising sun, but would also include some water or ice to reflect the colors of the eastern sky. The two locations that I had scoped out the night before on Google Earth didn’t quite pan out, so I kept driving and looking for the perfect location, all the while fighting the clock.

Leaves embedded in the ice on the Androscoggin River

Leaves embedded in the ice lead the eye into the photo

I ended up at a location in Lisbon along a bend in the Androscoggin River that looked directly at the rising sun, with only a few minutes to spare before the the crucial moment. I set up my tripod and camera and waited a short while before the sun started to rise above the trees on the horizon. The recent rain had turned the snow that was on the river’s surface into a nice reflective surface, so I was ready for whatever was to occur.

As it turned out, the sunrise was less than spectacular, and without the ice to reflect the sky’s color the photo wouldn’t have been worth taking. But by being at the right place at the right time I was able to come away with some better-than-average images.

After shooting the actual sunrise I turned my attention to some scenes in the opposite direction. Embedded in the ice along the river’s edge were a myriad of dead leaves. These lent themselves to some close-up photos. So I changed my wide angle lens for my 100mm macro lens and focused on the leaves. The low angle of the rising sun created some nice highlights and shadows that a mid-day sun would not have allowed for. Then, after the close-ups, I noticed how the leaves in the ice created a line  leading into the distance that was custom-made for a wide angle long depth of field image. I changed back to my wide angle lens and looked for the the best composition that would focus on an up-close leaf leading to a long-distance landscape image. The foreground leaves created a main focus point, while the string of leaves would lead the viewer into the photo… the perfect use for a wide-angle lens in the landscape.

So even thought I wasn’t able to capture what I originally set out to, I was able to get several different type of images from one location by using the the unique light of a sunrise. These images, and others, were all taken within an area of about 20′ x 30′, and all in a span of about 30 minutes. It’s all about working the scene.

Leaves and twigs embedded in the ice

Leaf, pine needles and twig are pleasing arranged in the ice

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